Provide instruction in behavior modification



Intervention Family

Family Relations and Parenting Skills Interventions

Provide Instruction in Behavior Modification

Behavior modification focuses directly on shaping behavior rather than on changing the thoughts, feelings, or other factors that may be causing the undesired behaviors. Teaching and coaching parents on how to use certain behavior modification techniques with their children can help improve children’s self-regulation and other behaviors related to school success and overall well-being. The parenting programs in our evidence base that had the most success used a combination of behavior modification strategies, rather than just one. Specifically, they used “positive and negative punishment” combined with “positive reinforcement.” In the language of operant conditioning in psychology, “positive punishment” means introducing negative consequences to discourage a child’s undesirable behavior. Common examples include soft reprimands and adding chores. “Negative punishment” means removing something the child values to discourage an undesirable behavior. Examples include taking away games, electronic devices, internet, or television, providing the child a short break from the situation in a safe and supportive space, or ignoring/removing the parent’s attention. “Positive reinforcement,” on the other hand, is when you provide something the child values to encourage and reinforce a desired behavior – such as praise and attention, extra privileges, or other rewards.

Training parents to use multiple behavior modification strategies is particularly effective. For example, one program coached parents on how to give positive attention to encourage certain behaviors, as well as how to ignore other behaviors during a play session. Others taught parents how to implement token reward systems alongside time-out strategies. Parents may find that using only negative consequences like taking away privileges becomes ineffective over time, as does using only positive reinforcement. Successful shaping of desired behaviors and deterring problem behaviors happens through consistently applying a combination of negative consequences and rewards at the right time.

Box 1. Examples of Behavior Modification Strategies

Goal: Discourage behavior

  • Positive Punishment | Negative Punishment
  • Adding chores | Taking away a favorite game or toy
  • Writing an apology |Ignoring; removing parent's attention
  • Soft repimand |Taking away recess or playdate

Goal: Encourage behavior

  • Positive Reinforcement
  • Praise, attention
  • Points, gold stars, other tokens to be traded for a reward
  • Extra play time or screen time