In previous blogs, I have discussed strategies for reacting to inappropriate behaviors in order to decrease them (see extinction blog or junk behavior blog). If these strategies are done correctly and in the right situations, the problem behaviors should subside. However, just getting rid of the problem behaviors is not enough; your child still has motivation for the consequence he/she was obtaining from the problem behavior. Think of it this way: in our previous soda machine example, if all of the soda machines in the world failed to give you soda after you put in your money, you would stop using them. However, this does not mean that you would no longer want soda.
Any good behavior plan that is designed to reduce problem behavior should also include methods to teach or increase appropriate behaviors that achieve the same outcomes as the problem behavior. Otherwise, you run the risk that the child will return to the problem behavior since it has been successful in the past.
How do I teach a replacement behavior?
First, it is key to have identified the function of the problem behavior (see ABC blog). Once you know what the child is trying to get out of the behavior, teach a behavior that will achieve the same function by prompting a more appropriate response in situations that have been difficult in the past. For example, if your child typically screams to terminate an undesired activity, teaching him/her to say, “stop” would be a more appropriate response. If your child hits you to gain attention, teaching him/her to call your name would be a more appropriate response.
Next, make sure that the replacement behavior gets reinforced consistently while the inappropriate behavior is put on extinction. This means that the replacement behavior should get the desired consequence consistently while the problem behavior no longer results in the desired consequence.
Consider the following when choosing a replacement behavior: First, the replacement behavior should be easier to engage in than the problem behavior. Next, in comparison to the consequence for the inappropriate behavior, the consequence for the replacement behavior should:
- Be more immediately available
- Be available in greater magnitudes
- Be available on a more consistent basis
Each of these factors make it more likely that your child will engage in the replacement behavior rather than the problem behavior. What are some situations in which you have taught your child a replacement behavior? What was the outcome? Please write your comments in the section below.