Often it is essential to have a professional help you tease out the relationships between emotions and behavior. This psychologist or other clinician will consider the environment and impact of something we call reinforcement. A psychologist has expertise in the emotion and behavior connection while a Board Certified Behavior Analyst is an expert on functional analysis of behavior. In the articles under the behavior domain, you can learn about behaviors such as: kicking the cat, hitting people, and throwing tantrums. You will gain an understanding of what to do when your child does not listen or follow your instructions. Your child may be bossy or rigid; always wanting to have things his own way. Your child may have toileting accidents, refusing to use the bathroom, even though she is toilet trained. Your child’s behavior may be more significant, such as breaking laws and serious aggression. Alternatively, it may be that your child simply struggles to comply with adult requests. Some children also have behavior problems due to an underlying emotional problem.
Behavior problems can simply be challenges that require a change in parenting practices, honing skills of reinforcing positive behaviors (following directions) and not reinforcing undesired behaviors (hitting others). Some children are simply more challenging to parent than others. While some kids respond to verbal redirection with an immediate change in behavior, other kids do not. Parents of challenging children may benefit from parent consultation with a therapist or behavior analyst. Sometimes children require direct treatment even in-home therapy to catch the problems in the environment in which they occur.
Sometimes behavior problems can be related to a behavior disorder. Other times outbursts may have a mood origin. Developmental Disabilities like Autism and AD/HD are not defined by behavior problems, but children with these disabilities often struggle with impulsivity and trouble with perspective taking which can lead to misbehaviors. They have trouble regulating behavior which leads to challenges. Children with depression or anxiety may appear irritable and have meltdowns easily. Behavior disorders classify challenges with behavior that are not emotionally driven. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is created when a child is able to get his or her way by using behavior like yelling, defying adults, arguing, bullying etc. These negative behaviors increase because they are unintentionally reinforced in some way. Conduct Disorder is more serious and is marked by hurting others, fire setting, cruelty to animals, etc. Intermittent Explosive Disorder includes intermittent overwhelming outbursts that seem to be aimed at getting something. By figuring out what the diagnosis is, if there is one, a parent can determine what type of treatment, emotional, behavioral or both may best suit his or her child.
In the articles that follow, we often mention ‘ABA’ therapy. Click here to learn more about ABA principles–A behavior will increase in duration or intensity if it is reinforced. Reinforcement is defined as something that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring. Positive reinforcement is introducing something that increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur, Negative reinforcement is taking something away to increase a behavior. Here in CLEAPE we like to increase positive behaviors thus differentially reinforcing behaviors that are incompatible with the behaviors we want to decrease. Focusing on reinforcement is better than focusing on punishment. If you focus on punishment you are not teaching a child what to do, only what not to do. Also you run a high risk of accidentally reinforcing a behavior you don’t want to see by providing attention to a child when they are exhibiting that undesired behavior (like a temper tantrum).
Praise is an example of positive reinforcement; while a parent is themselves negatively reinforced when they provide a cookie to a screaming child. The behavior is providing a cookie and this is negatively reinforced, the parent does it more, because the cookie makes the child stop screaming. Here the parent is positively reinforcing screaming by teaching the child that when he or she screams enough, a cookie will be provided. This way the child is receiving positive reinforcement (increasing the behavior) for a behavior the parent really would like to see decrease in frequency, duration and intensity.
Reinforcement may be tangible (i.e. I get something if I exhibit a certain behavior), social (i.e. attention is provided or removed if I exhibit a certain behavior), automatic (i.e. it feels good to exhibit a certain behavior) or escape (I don’t have to do the task I don’t want to do if I exhibit a certain behavior). An example of a tangible reinforcer is earning a matchbox car for cleaning your room. An example of social is praise or story time with mom when you share with your sister. An example of automatic is masturbation, a child notices that rubbing feels good, and therefore he begins to do it more often. An example of escape is hitting the teacher in class and getting to leave the classroom, thus getting away from a noisy environment where a child is feeling unsuccessful. In ABA we want to increase desired behaviors and differentially reinforce alternate or incompatible behaviors to decrease problem behaviors. An example of this is teaching a child to ask the teacher for a break and then allowing them to go to a quiet corner or leave the class, asking becomes more successful than hitting and thus hitting will decrease and asking for a break will increase.