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.
In addition to determining the purposes of the child’s behavior, it is also important that parents determine the specific triggers for the problem behavior.
For example, parents might ask, “What situations would predict that my child would have a problem (or – in essence, what would set my child off)?” Confident answers to this question that lead to conclusions related to possible triggers for behavior will lead directly to effective strategies. These strategies might include avoiding difficult situations, prompting positive behavior or coping strategies, and somehow changing circumstances to make it easier for children to behave.
Prevention strategies must be tailored to a child’s and family’s needs and circumstances to be effective. When parents and other caretakers allow themselves to get creative, however, the options for prevention seem endless. Exactly what is changed and how it is changed depends on many things, such as the predicted effectiveness of the strategy, the fit for the child and those around him or her – as well as the environment, the resources needed, and the ease with which the strategy can be put in place and used on an ongoing basis. The ability to anticipate problems and make reasonable changes before problems occur is the true power of prevention.
For example, the table below provides some common challenges and potential solutions.
- Designing Strategies to Improve Your Child’s Behavior
- Proven Strategies for Supporting Your Child’s Behavior
- Spare The Rod: Addressing Difficult Behavior Effectively
- Family Chat Replay: Improving Family Lives with Positive Behavior Support
- Positive Behavior Support as a Family Affair
- Use Your Words Replacing Problem Behavior with Communication
- How Positive Behavior Support Can Work In A School Setting
- Using Visual Strategies to Improve Behavior
- A Parent’s Roadmap to Improving Challenging Behavior With Positive Behavior Support
- Cultivating Support for Your Child’s Challenging Behaviors
- Bookshelf Essential: Parenting with Positive Behavior Support
- Can Your Thoughts Impact Your Child’s Behavior?
- Getting Involved with Positive Behavior Support at Your Child’s School
- Finding Common Ground: Working Together to Resolve Behavioral Challenges
- Parenting with PBS: Resolving Children’s Behavior Problems More Effectively and Efficiently
- Getting Ahead of the Game: Changing Behavior and Family Life
This post originally appeared on our November/December 2010 Magazine
Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.