Does your child have a behavior that drives you nuts and makes you want to pull your hair out? What about negative behaviors that ruin or destroy items in your home? My son Tristan is five and has autism, and at times many of his repetitive behaviors make me batty. I could scold my son with spankings, time outs, telling him “no” until I am blue in the face, but none of that works. Most of his negative behaviors are sensory based, and rather than try to “change” my son, I use positive replacement behavior reinforcements to redirect his negative behavior. Replacement behavior simply means you target the negative behavior and replace it with another more positive behavior. Even if your child does not have autism, positive replacement behaviors could be used. Here are five simple steps to replace bad behaviors to ensure your child’s behavior will change for the better.
- Before you start any replacement behavior you need to do a Functional Behavior Assessment of why your child does the negative behavior. If you do not first start to address the “why” of the problem you will not adequately replace the negative behavior with a positive one, and get the outcome you want. Sit down and write out what negative behavior you want to replace. Once you target the behavior, make your plan and find whatever objects you need to create a positive reinforcement. Once you have your plan in place make sure you introduce the replacement behavior reinforcement in a positive way. An example of this is my son loves to fold paper. This becomes a problem because mail ends up torn or missing, and books and photographs become ruined. Rather than constantly yell at him to stop or quit being bad, we gave him a positive replacement for his negative behavior. If my son was older and the only paper he folded and ruined was his math or other homework paper I could conclude it was not about folding the paper, but rather a behavior to get out of doing his homework. Tristan will fold anything and when we did our assessment with his behavioral therapist we found he is simply a creative little boy who always needs to do something with his hands. To address the negative behavior, our son’s ABA therapist took several pieces of regular computer paper and wrote in big black letters “folding paper” and then laminated them. When we see our son start to fold other papers or objects that he is not supposed to, then we ask him to find his folding papers and fold those instead. This still gives my son the ability to fold, but on something that is okay.
- Another way to use positive replacement behaviors is by social stories. When my son screams because his baby sister is cooing or crying, his social story tells him it is okay to cover his ears or leave to go to another room. I explain more (HERE) how social stories work with resources and links on how to create them to work as a positive reinforcement for your child’s negative behavior.
- When you use a replacement behavior, have more than one item lying around your house for the replacement behavior so it is easily accessible. My son is orally fixated, and so he chews and puts all kind of random objects in his mouth. This behavior is not only negative, but it is also not always safe. We replace the toy or household object like a pen or TV remote with inexpensive plastic water tubing you can buy from your local hardware store. My son has several chewable tubes and necklaces lying around the house, in his bed, in the car, and I always carry one in my purse. The same goes for his folding paper, because I want my son to easily make a positive behavior change, and he cannot do that if the replacement item is nowhere found. If you would like to learn more about sensory chewable tubing, check out my post (HERE).
- Realistically, we are not able to be with our children 24/7, so it is imperative that you inform others who are in your child’s life so they can also ensure positive behaviors replace negative ones. Explain to them what to look for and what objects are okay and how to address the behavior. My son Tristan loves to pull everything out of my kitchen cupboards. He creates a mess, and many of my kitchen items get ruined or lost. To replace this behavior, I gave my son one cupboard to play in and to help others who watch him I have a sign taped to this cupboard labeled as “Tristan’s Drawer” where I keep my pots and pans. My son loves to spin the pots lids and I allow him to do this, but only from that marked cupboard. Informing others helps to keep continuity with your child and makes them accountable throughout the day for their behaviors.
- To ensure your behavior replacement works it is imperative to start a reinforcement behavior modification system. When you see your child independently choose the positive behavior over the negative behavior reward them to reinforce their positive decision making. Rewarding your child can be done in several ways through sticker charts, earning a special toy or game to play with only at certain times, or you can use a jar and bead system like I explained (HERE) in another post. Whatever system you choose, you must be consistent, because without consistency your child will get mixed signals and not take you seriously about replacing their negative behavior.
Replacing your child’s negative behavior is challenging, but taking the time to address the “why” and finding the objects to help your child achieve the positive behavior goal is important. Below are resources I find helpful and my hope is this post helps shed some light on how to address your child’s negative behaviors. Note I am not giving out medical or psychological advice, but instead I share the techniques we have used with the help of behavioral therapists to help with our own son.
- What is Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)
- FBA Forms and Examples to Assess the “Why”
- Six Principles of Behavior Management
- Free Printable Behavior Charts
- Behavior Plans and Charts
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