Power of Prevention: Heading Off Difficult Behavior
In the past, children’s challenging behavior was typically addressed with consequences (usually punishment) imposed after the problem behavior occurred. Parents, teachers, and other people supporting children with special needs are now starting to recognize the power of prevention. Preventive strategies make problem behavior unnecessary because the situations that set the stage for the problems (e.g., boredom, difficult tasks) have been anticipated and changed. By getting ‘out in front of the behavior,’ parents can help children deal with daily challenges without resistance or aggression and build the skills children need to be successful. If behavior problems can be stopped before they even have a chance to occur, children may become more receptive to instruction and enthusiastic about learning in general. The changes also may lead to improvements in the child’s and family’s quality of life.
Preventive strategies involve changing circumstances known to trigger problem behavior before things begin to escalate.
This is done by adding cues or reminders for positive behavior and making unpleasant activities more enjoyable or comfortable by adding features the children like. When deciding which prevention strategies make sense, the first step is to consider the purpose the behaviors of concern serve for a child. For example, whining may occur for a wide variety of reasons. First, a child may whine to get attention. In that case, prevention strategies should focus on praising or interacting with the child when he or she is behaving well. Second, whining might be directed at getting something the child wants, like toys or snacks. If that is the case, problems can be headed off by communicating to the child more clearly what he or she may have and when these things will be available. Finally, whining might occur when a child is doing something he or she does not enjoy – with the goal being to avoid that activity. In that case, prevention would involve making those activities more tolerable.
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