Setting Children up for Success: Using Precorrection Effectively
Using Precorrection Effectively
Imagine beginning a new and challenging position without a job description. Imagine going whitewater rafting without being told what was going to occur. How would you perform? Would not knowing what to expect affect your behavior? Predictability is important for us as adults. It is even more important for children with special needs.
Children with disabilities often have difficulty interpreting subtle environmental cues and dealing with changing circumstances or expectations. When new situations are sprung on them, they may resist or melt down. Precorrection is a strategy for preparing children for what will occur and setting the stage for them to use the right behavior in the circumstances. You simply correct behavior in advance.
Precorrection is helpful for at least two reasons. First, it engages children as active participants in their change, giving them the respect of being included and an opportunity for personal control. Second, it avoids errors and mishaps that can lead to frustration.
How Do We Use Precorrection?
Precorrection involves gathering information and developing and enacting plans. Here are the steps in the process.
- Identify situations in which your child needs precorrection. These are often activities in which your child tends to get upset, possibly situations that are highly complex or confusing.
- Determine what types of information your child needs to be successful – who will be involved, where and when it will occur, and what exactly will happen and be expected of your child.
- Figure out how best to share that information and assistance. You may simply need to tell your child what is going to happen and what will be expected. You may need to show him or her by role playing or modeling. Or, you may need to provide visuals such as pictures to clarify the expectations.
- Communicate with your child prior to and during the situation, guiding your child to participate as you have taught and rewarding their success.
When Do We Use Precorrection?
Precorrection can be used for a wide range of circumstances. Some children need help with simple transitions such as going from one place to another or interacting with new people. Some children do well in these moment-to moment situations, but need support for more complex events such as going on a trip, changing schools, or joining a new extracurricular program. The following examples provide illustrations of using precorrection to improve children’s behavior.
Going to Bed at Night
When it came time to go to bed at night, Violet would scream, leave the room, and run around. Her parents came to realize that she was uncertain about the expectations and worried about who would be with her and what they would be doing when she awoke in the morning. To make bedtime easier, her parents began going over everything with her when she laid down in the evening.
Moving to a New Home
The Ruiz family found a wonderful home in which the children would no longer have to share bedrooms and they would be able to do everything they enjoyed as a family. This positive and exciting event also brought anxiety, since the children did not handle changes well – and this was a big change. The blended family approached the move with each of their three children differently, based on the children’s unique personal needs. Precorrection in the Ruiz family home often required the parents to reaffirm behavioral expectations up front and reassure the children that, despite changes, the family would maintain daily routines and schedules as closely as possible. Where changes to environment were unavoidable, they created strategies to minimize behavior escalations, and maximize the likelihood of a smooth transition occurring between the old and new home.
The Ruiz’s prepared for the move by explaining and showing the children how the new home would be different and how those changes were likely to affect their daily routines. For example, they created a visual layout of their new bedroom spaces, allowing the children to plan where their belongings would be place. They had the children help with packing and moving, working collaboratively to complete each of the required tasks (e.g., labeling boxes, dividing items).
As a blended family, the Ruiz’s anticipated stress with moving farther away from their daughter’s second home with her mother. The plan therefore included partnering with her mother to ensure a smooth transition, reiterating that expectations shared between the two homes would remain consistent. These strategies minimized the children’s anxiety and gave them a clear path ahead.
Precorrection is a great strategy for getting out in front of children’s behavior and empowering them to participate effectively in situations while minimizing behavioral challenges. Each situation and child is different, but the principles described here can always be adapted for success.
Meme 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.