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Strategies to Reduce Problem Behaviors
Published April 19, 2019

By: Adriana Neumann, BCBA, ABA Clinical Supervisor

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We know why the problem behavior is occurring... But now what?

Believe it or not, identifying why a problem behavior is occurring actually directs you to effective strategies to use in order to successfully reduce problem behaviors. Below are three important points to focus on to reduce and replace problem behaviors:

Stop reinforcing the problem behavior

Do your absolute best to withhold reinforcement when your child engages in problem behaviors. Keep in mind why the problem behavior is occurring to guide what you withhold. The following are reasons why your child might be engaging in problem behavior and what your response should be in each case:

  • To gain attention

Don’t give attention when they engage in the problem behavior. Be mindful of various forms of attention (i.e. reprimands, eye contact, physical attention, etc.).

  • To access a desired item or activity

Make sure that your child is not able to access the item or activity when they engage in the problem behavior.

  • To escape a non-preferred activity or demand

Do your best to block your child’s access to escape. Maintain the demand and possibly prompt your child to follow through successfully.

  • To access automatic reinforcement

Something may be reinforcing or maintaining the behavior separate from the environment. Do your best to block access to engagement in the problem behavior and attempt to redirect the behavior to an alternative.

Teach replacement behavior

Your child is engaging in problem behaviors for a reason. We need to teach a more socially appropriate but functionally equivalent way for your child to have their wants and needs met. Think about it as if teaching a new way for your child to access what they were seeking when engaging in the problem behavior.

  • If your child engages in problem behaviors to gain your attention, consider teaching skills such as tapping your shoulder for your attention, calling your name, or showing you something they did as possible alternatives.
  • If your child engages in a problem behavior to attain a desired item, consider teaching a way to calmly request the item through an individualized mode of communication such as a picture exchange, signing, or vocalizing.
Teach desirable behavior

Think about this as the skill that you want your child to have in a perfect world. Wouldn’t it be perfect for your child to listen to and follow any request you make? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if any time you said, “no,” to your child, he or she moved onto something else?

  • If your child engages in problem behaviors to gain your attention, consider teaching them to wait by doing something else until you are able to provide that attention.
  • If your child engages in problem behaviors to obtain a desired item, consider teaching them to accept “no” when the item is simply unavailable.

Behavior is a product of the environment, and your behavior contributes to your child’s environment. Self-reflection and objective eyes can be very helpful in identifying changes that you may need to consider. Consistency, teaching new behaviors, and withholding reinforcement for problem behaviors can lead to a significant reduction in problem behavior and ultimately a happier, less stressful life.