Effective Strategies for Behavioral Interventions in Defiant Children

by StephanieCristi 2 years ago in children

From the Desk of a Behavior Analyst

Effective Strategies for Behavioral Interventions in Defiant Children

Behavioral interventions for children go far beyond changing poor behavior. The development of the theory of behavior modification completely altered the way people of the time thought about children’s motivation to behave. Studies on behavior modification began with behaviorist experts B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. Regardless of their methods of research, they were able to develop techniques that behavior strategists still use today, decades later. Jay Belsky, a psychology professor, asserts, “We now have a better idea why rewards work better than punishment with pre-adolescent children.”

Reinforcement, punishment, and extinction are the main approaches to behavior modification.

Types of Behavioral Interventions

The three types of behavioral interventions are reinforcement, punishment, and extinction. A common misconception about these intervention types is that one method is better than another. In reality, however, they function in different ways and guide behavior in different directions.

Reinforcement for Behavioral Interventions

Reinforcement increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur more frequently in the future. It can occur through the child coming into contact with a desirable consequence, or having a negative consequence taken away.

An example of delivering a desirable consequence would be giving the child praise upon completing the desired behavior.

On the other hand, an example of taking away a negative consequence would be to eliminate a ban on computer usage upon completion of the desired behavior.

Punishment for Behavioral Interventions

Punishment decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur in the future. It can occur by delivering an undesirable consequence, or taking away a positive consequence.

An example of delivering an undesirable consequence would be a spanking when the child acts out.

An example of taking away a positive consequence is a parent taking away video games because the child has not finished with his or her homework.

Extinction for Behavioral Interventions

Under an extinction procedure, the behavior does not meet reinforcement. After several instances of a behavior not obtaining reinforcement, the child learns that the behavior is not functional, and therefore stops engaging in it.

For example, a child throws a tantrum to get out of eating vegetables. Since the goal of the tantrum is avoiding vegetables, implementing an extinction procedure would mean that the child will not be able to get out of eating the vegetables, no matter how long the tantrum lasts. After having tantrums a few nights in a row and seeing that they don’t get him out of eating veggies, a child will stop having tantrums and seek out new ways to avoid eating the vegetables.

While extinction sounds easy enough, the situation may easily and quickly get out of hand. For example, tantrums or crying may escalate to self injury or physical aggression.

Regardless of the method of behavior modification implemented in your home, specific techniques may work better for young children than adolescents.

Critical Techniques for Behavioral Interventions

There are several different approaches to behavior modification. Some parents and educators are in the camp that emphasizes the use of praise of positive behavior. While this is the best way to teach young children, some studies have shown that adolescents can learn from negative feedback as well. Thanks to brain imagery, behavior experts have been able to verify that brain processing is far more involved in mature minds. Therefore, adolescents are more receptive to accepting praise and learning experiences, even the negative ones.

More studies are necessary to conclude whether a learning experience is more difficult to grasp as an cause of behavior change than praise. In effect, the research investigated how neurological connections are associated with children’s behavior.

Another more likely case suggests the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as a positive reinforcer. Behavioral programs that use CBT also incorporate a series of behavioral interventions to generate a beneficial outcome. As a result, CBT-based programs establish a basis to modify the undesirable behavior by implementing a set of positive reinforcers. Just as programs use praise and CBT for behavior modification, other systems incorporate a consistent method of change to achieve a desirable outcome. Positive reinforcement for behavior therapy becomes a clear choice in many programs to teach alternative ways to behavior modification.

Strategic Effects of Modifying Behavior

While science-based techniques improve how behaviorists design their intervention programs, you need specific strategies to use at home. With consistency and proven methods, you can start changing your child’s behavior. Whether or not you have positive reinforcers at home such as reward systems to help, you also need a behavior program to assist you in later years.

Remember that young children are more likely to change behavior with positive reinforcement and praise. However, adolescents become defiant as they gain independence. At this moment, you need a larger variety of strategies to cope with those challenging situations. Even behavioral experts suggest that the battle of behavior modification is not easy. You will surely have tense moments of tantrums and disagreements and so, you will need ways to cope with your own stress and develop methods of self-care.

After all, how can you help your children when you are exhausted and stressed? It is not always possible and will lead to quicker burnout as a parent.

Find ways to change your perspective on behavioral interventions and when you allow those methods to change your outlook, you will also inspire your children to change for the better.

Implement Procedures for Positive Behavioral Program

You cannot do it alone. Rely on those around you that care about the process of behavioral modification to support you. The process is different for everyone. A behavioral program may be easy enough for families with a single child, but what about families with multiple children that need help?

That is when you need additional support.

When you enroll in a behavioral program, you can learn many different lessons, such as why some techniques work for one child but not the other. As you seek out the proven method of behavior modification, also try to be part of support groups. In many instances, online courses offer support groups you can access in order to ask questions or for moral support.


Implementing behavior programs with different strategies (reinforcement, punishment, and extinction) can help children with self-awareness and achievement. Don’t feel stressed and frustrated when it comes to your children’s behavior issues, instead seek help and work with your child, instead of against them.

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