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Behavior Plans: A Quick Overview

By April 30, 2018Blogs

We have all been faced with the need to change a behavior. Usually, this desire comes from our own internal motivation and we put in place a plan to help us reach that goal. For example, if it is to get healthier, we might structure your diet and introduce exercise. We also might put in parameters as to when we get to take the day off from the gym or from our diet. You set up a structured and predetermined framework to help reach your goals, including some external motivation to keep you motivated. Congrats! You are using a Behavior Plan. Now, when working with children, the objective is quite different; we are looking to change someone else’s behavior. The goal of this article is to give some tips and common pitfalls to setting a Behavior Plan for your patient, or your own child.

First off, let’s define exactly what a Behavior Plan entails. Behavior Plans are not scary, they are not only for kids with severe behavioral struggles and they are most importantly not over whelming (or at least that’s the goal). A Behavior Plan is like a contract. It lays out, in detail, how you as parent/teacher/clinician and the child agree to decrease an identified undesired behavior (hitting, kicking, biting, yelling, ect.) and increase a desired behavior (taking a break, using verbal communication, tolerating discomfort, ect.). You come up with ways to motivate the individual to decrease the undesired and increase the desired behavior. How you motivate them, is really only limited by your creativity.
First off, clearly define what is the behavior you tend to modify. Note, I said behavior and not behaviors. Make it as concrete as possible. If you have identified that physical aggression is intolerable behavior, than physical aggression is the target behavior and only target behavior that is to be worked on. This helps keep everything clear, for both the adult and the child. Now that you have identified the target behavior, it’s time to figure out the how to motivate the child. Motivation comes from BOTH reinforcement and punishment. One without the other is an uphill battle. It is imperative that you REINFORCE the desired behavior and PUNISH the undesired behavior. Punishment is simply a set of consequence for when the undesired behavior occurs. Loss of privileges, access to technology or a loss of play time could be examples of punishment. This helps motivate the child to make avoid the undesired behavior and engage in the desired behavior. What will help them stay motivated more is if in by choosing the desired behavior they also get a reinforcer. When you pair the two together, your outcome will be much more effective than if you use just one!
Potential Pitfalls
The biggest pitfall that can be made is biting off more than you can chew. When setting up a Behavior Plan, you are agreeing to a contact. And that contract goes both ways. As the adult, you must uphold your end of the bargain, which means implementing the reinforcement and the punishment. If you forget, or “let it slide” all you are doing is modeling to the child that this plan is negotiable and not that serious. Either follow the plan and if you can’t, modify it to make it work. If neither of those are possible, don’t implement a plan to reduce the chance of inadvertent reinforcement of undesired behaviors. Another common pitfall is the “should”. “My kid should know how to do that, why would I reward him for it?” This mentality, although tempting, is not advised. Reminder: you don’t come out of the womb knowing everything. You have to learn, and you learn by being taught. When you catch yourself with a “should” ask yourself first if anyone has ever taught the child? The answer will sometimes surprise you!
Now What?
Take your time and stay the course. Once a plan is in place, you don’t get to scrape it after a week and say that “nothing works”! This behavior you are attempting to change has taken time to become some prominent and it will take time to make disappear. Good days are fantastic; however, a bad day could be right around the corner. Look for consistency for a prolonged period before ending a Behavior Plan.