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Behavior Modification in Early Childhood

by Darlena Cunha

No parent knows all the answers to her child’s behavior issues. Depending on the means by which you to choose to parent, though, the solutions can be drastically different. While some disruptive behavior issues can be medically related, many times you as a parent can step in and modify behavior and habits through consistency, rewards and natural consequences. Natural consequences, however, only work once the child is old enough to understand cause and effect, according to Dr. Sears, so concentrate on the positive ways to modify behavior in early childhood.

Praise

Parents tend to forget that positive reinforcement can go a much farther than negative attention. When your child is behaving, make sure to praise him. Give him a hug, a smile, a thumbs up -- anything to show him that you love him and you're proud of him. Perhaps he's just been playing quietly for 20 whole minutes. Ruffle his hair and tell him how much you appreciate his independence. Dr. Sears says children really want to please their parents, especially at a young age. He cautions that you should praise the behavior, not the child, because sometimes children can infer more from the phrase. For instance, if you tell your son he's a good boy for playing quietly, he might infer that he is bad when he is not playing quietly, which puts a lot of pressure on him.

Implement a Reward System

When you're trying to improve a certain behavior specifically, such as having your child pick up after herself, you can implement a reward system when she does what you want her to do. The type of reward would depend on her age, but it could be anything from stickers or smileys on a chart, to a candy or treat, to outside play or computer games. Eileen Bailey, who authored the book, "The Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome," writes for HealthCentral advising that you give your child praise throughout the whole process, as she picks up a few items, then a few more -- in this example -- then give her the reward at the end. As time goes on, you should be able to give the rewards out less frequently, or change the rules a bit, encompassing more responsibility for it.

Work on One Behavior at a Time

Many parents make the mistake of trying to completely overhaul their child all at once. A tipping point is reached, and when the parent has had enough, she goes too far to the other side. Remember that your child is young and used to living in the habits he's created, says Carol Banks, MSW, writing for the EmpoweringParents website. If your child is physically disruptive, she says, start there. Work on calming the physical tendencies first. Do so thoroughly and consistently, addressing the behavior every time it happens and praising every time the child manages to control it. Again, make sure to keep this all about the behavior, so that your child understands that he is not defined by his actions and that he has control over his actions. Understanding that you are in his corner will go a long way in helping to move him forward.

Know When to Seek Help

Not all disruptive behaviors are indicative of a child simply acting out for attention. Sometimes there is an underlying medical issue, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. HealthyChildren.org, a website provided for parents by the American Academy of Pediatrics, says to look for impulsiveness, lack of control on a regular basis, angry outbursts and deliberate destruction in these cases. While the disorder may be the cause, stress around the home coming from a divorce, move, separation or a new baby can trigger it.

About the Author

Darlena Cunha has been a writer and editor since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Connecticut. Cunha is also completing her master's degree in mass communication.

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