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Child Behavior Modification & Control

by Samantha Hanly, studioD

The underlying theory behind behavior modification is that human behavior is learned. Behavior can also be unlearned and new behavior learned in its place. This is great news for parents because it means that, via behavior modification techniques, they can help their children learn the most desirable behaviors. It also means there is hope for kids who routinely misbehave.

Behavior Is a Response

The University of Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development published a tip sheet of behavior modification techniques for parents and teachers. The authors state that behaviors have antecedents; in other words, behavior is often a response to something else. Parents may pay attention to what happens before misbehavior. For example, some kids detest stopping playing and coming to dinner. They start to whine and refuse to comply. Parents may modify this behavior by giving the children warnings beforehand. "Dinner is in 10 minutes." This gives the child a chance to adjust and may decrease whining and refusal.

Positive Reinforcement

One of the best ways to encourage desirable behaviors is to compliment or praise the child. For example, after a child washes his hands for dinner, the parent may say "Your hands are nice and clean. Good job." After the child clears his plate, the parent may say "Thank you for clearing your plate. I appreciate when you pick up after yourself." Praise encourages kids to keep behaving well.

Logical Consequences

Consequences and punishments work best when they are logical. For example, a teenager who stays out past curfew will understand why he can't go out the next night. But making him do extra chores for a week is less effective because there is little connection between curfew and chores. On the other hand, if a child does a chore sloppily, it makes sense that he should go back and do it again. But it would not make sense to make him stay home because he performed his chore poorly.


Extinguishing is a relatively difficult behavior modification technique. It involves completely ignoring behavior that you do not approve of. It works for behaviors that are not disruptive; for example, if your child whines, and you ignore what she says, then she may try asking in a better tone of voice. You must respond to the nice tone and ignore the whiny tone consistently for this to work. Also, before incorporating this technique, tell the child you will only respond to the appropriate tone of voice so she is not confused.


Modeling is a powerful behavior modification technique. Children watch what parents do. Parents who yell will raise children who yell, generally. Think about your own behavior, and try to act in the same way you want your child to act.

About the Author

Samantha Hanly is an organic vegetable gardener, greenhouse gardener and home canner. She grows a substantial portion of her family's food every year. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Hanly embarked on a career teaching dramatic arts, arts and crafts, and languages. She became a professional writer in 2000, writing curricula for use in classrooms and libraries.

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