What is junk behavior?

Junk behavior can be considered any inappropriate behavior that is not harmful to oneself, others, or the environment. It can include behaviors such as whining, crying, saying “no”, rolling one’s eyes, spitting, etc. Junk behavior can occur either alone or in conjunction with other harmful problem behaviors such as hitting, kicking, or throwing items.

Why does my child engage in junk behavior?

Junk behavior usually occurs to gain attention, escape/avoid a task, or attain a desired toy or activity. Any attention given to it may cause it to occur in the future for the following reasons:

  • If your child is engaging in junk behavior to get attention, giving him/her attention is giving him/her the desired consequence.
  • If your child is engaging in junk behavior to escape/avoid a task, attending to the behavior delays the task.
  • If your child is engaging in junk behavior to gain access to something, reacting to the junk behavior makes it more likely, in your child’s perspective, that you will give in to what he/she wants.

How do I react to junk behavior?

Ideally, it is best not to give any attention to junk behavior, meaning do not acknowledge the behavior in any way and avoid changes in facial expression, posture, etc. Carry on as you normally would and even leave the room if it is safe and appropriate to do so. When your child calms down and begins engaging in appropriate behavior, give specific praise (“You’re building such a nice block tower and using a quiet voice!”).

If the junk behavior occurs at the same time as other harmful behaviors, you must ensure the safety of your child and those around by intervening using gentle physical guidance and blocking, if necessary. It is still important to continue ignoring the junk behavior and avoid commenting on the inappropriate harmful behaviors.

Final notes

  • Consistency is key when attempting to change any behavior. If the junk behavior is attended to in some environments or by some people, even intermittently, it may maintain.
  • Consider that the behavior may get worse initially before it gets better (see extinction burst blog for more information). It is important to continue ignoring the junk behavior until your child is appropriate. Ignoring the behavior at first and giving into it with attention if it gets more extreme (whining that turns into yelling) will teach your child that he/she needs to engage in the more extreme behavior in the future.
  • Typically we think of attention as praise and other positive interactions, but it can also consist of negative interactions such as reprimands, negotiation, or reasoning. It is important to remember that negative attention can be valuable to the child in comparison to getting no attention at all, especially if he/she has skill deficits that lead to difficulties seeking out attention appropriately. Stay tuned for a blog on teaching appropriate alternative behaviors!


Published On: March 28th, 2013 / Categories: Blog, Problem Behaviors /

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