A child’s behaviour can be thought of as communicating in two ways: a direct message from the child, or an indirect message from the parent.
Children with normal language development may need to use behaviour to communicate. They love attention, especially from an adult, sibling or peer.
A child who attains inadequate attention for being quietly well-behaved may do deleterious things to get attention, such as screaming, making a muddle or fighting with a sibling. Most children prefer negative attention to no attention at all.
When a child receives attention for his/her behaviour, then it has been fruitful in his/her terms, whether or not it is desirable from the parent’s point of view. It is likely that the same strategy will be used again to attract attention.
An adult’s attention to a particular behaviour reinforces it; this is ‘positive reinforcement’. A child will do a lot for rewarding aspects of a relationship with an adult, so the way a parent directs attention can either help to improve the behaviour or help to make it difficult.
In the context of a relationship between parent and child that involves insufficient overall attention from the parent, and therefore inadequate positive reinforcement of desirable behaviour, it is the undesirable conduct that gets the most parental attention To summarise, the attention principle is behaviours happen more if they get attention.
Those deeds getting more consistent and recurrent positive attention will increase in frequency. This is the theory behind using as much verbal and non-verbal praise as possible, while still meaning it.
Behaviours getting less attention will dwindle in frequency. This is the principle behind ignoring, a very effective parenting technique. Regrettably, it is not quite as simple as it sounds.
As parents you should be aware of the ‘extinction burst’. A child will continue to try a technique that has worked, and often redoubles efforts to succeed when faced with the new parental strategy of ignoring. So the behaviour may become more challenging before it starts to subside. Parental persistence will bring success. Otherwise, it is the child’s persistence that will win.
Like any powerful intervention, time-out can make things worse if misused. If it is used as a punishment in a punitive parenting regime, it can contribute to a deteriorating relationship between the parent and child, especially if it is continued for longer than a minute per year of age or carried out in a harsh way
To help time-out be effective and safe, it is worth remembering the basic rule: the phrase is shorthand for ‘time out from positive reinforcement’ (of negative behaviour). If ignoring is tough, for instance due to the presence of smirking siblings, a belligerent child can be given an opportunity to calm down in a relatively secluded place.
Strategies to prevent bad behaviour used to escape an undesirable task:
• Propose choices to increase motivation and interest in performing less desirable tasks.
• Avoid power struggles by choosing your battles carefully. If you don’t have the time and energy to respond effectively and avoid giving in, say yes from the beginning.
• Construct a visual schedule with pictures to symbolise your daily routine. Sometimes challenging behaviour occurs because children don’t know what is going to happen next. Instead of telling your child what to do or what he/she can’t have, use the schedule to show what he/she needs to do and when activities are available.
• Alter scheduling specific undesirable activities to come before more desirable activities.
• Make the task or demand easier to accomplish successfully.