POSITIVE BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS WRITTEN BY: DR. MARNY ZIMMERMAN HOHL Discipline is a great topic. Positive behavior modification can take many forms, including the loss of minor privileges once a child’s mental history has been established. For example, a child that has witnessed violence may present with many undesirable symptoms such as breaking things or acting out violently. Now, that does not mean that this child should not have consequences for his/her actions. We need to come up with the best way possible to modify this child’s behavior into more positive actions, giving them appropriate coping skills to lead a successful life. Obviously, uncontrollable behaviors related to medical conditions would never be punished. That is why it is important to detail a personal positive behavior modification plan for those that need it. This would include uncontrollable behaviors versus the ones that the child does have some control over. Kids are smart…if they think they can get away with everything – they will! So how do we modify negative behavior into positive? 1. Take each time a child act’s out is an opportunity to teach them something positive. Yes, dealing with kids is frustrating. But these children came to us with an established pattern of thoughts, primarily that adults cannot be trusted. Life has proved this to them already. It is up to us to prove them wrong. Let’s show them that they are unconditionally loved through words and actions. 2. As established, physical punishment is unacceptable. Physical punishment is controlling through fear, which really doesn’t teach the child anything other than their preconceived thoughts of adults are correct. We need to work hard to avoid instilling more negative behaviors, as these children will parent one day how they were parented. Let’s give them the positive tools to do a great job! 3. Tell the child specifically what you want them to do. Instead of scolding “Jose” for writing on the table, why not say “Please write on the paper so the table stays neat and tidy”. That way, you gave clear direction; he knows what you want and the reason for it. Just saying “stop drawing on the table” doesn’t fill in the blanks for the child. 4. Never yell or demean the child. Yelling creates an atmosphere of bullying a victim. In all likelihood these children may have never experienced positive behavior modification, and yelling, pointing, using demeaning words are all counterproductive. The staff should act how they want the children to act, respectful. 5. We should have the general rules (for example) of lunch time posted on the wall in the dining area. This way, the tias can discuss the formal rules with the children, and they are posted on the wall as a reminder. Make the poster fun, not scary. It could be colorful, and I would suggest the children help make it. That way they learn, and can be proud of it when they see it. It should contain positive messages like “the youngest children in the family are in line first”, ect. In the “rules” specific problems like hitting should be pin pointed. It could say “hitting is not acceptable and there are consequences for this action.” Consequence could be a time out (ages 3-4 = 1 minute time out, 10 year old = 5 minutes) or my personal favorite is to give the child two – three options for consequences, and have them choose their own. This need to be age appropriate and the termination of an outing should not be included in the consequences. Never take away anything that would be damaging to the child’s self esteem or something that they really rely on (like a child’s doll that they sleep with). 6. Give the children choices. Allow them to make small mistakes first so when they grow up, they don’t make the big ones. And in reality, the word “mistake” shouldn’t be used. There are no mistakes, just the opportunities to make different choices! 7. Praise the children for positive behaviors. These children want to please the adults that care for them. When a child is seen doing something positive, they should be verbally praised. Also, the other children will hear the praise and are likely to mimic the behavior. This also works the same for children who seek negative attention due to previous experiences (generally abuse/neglect) – if they see a tia providing a response they are accustomed to hearing, you can bet they will go to her and behave badly. It goes both ways. 8. Create an environment of unconditional love, understanding a safety. This is crucial to the behavior of the children, because it will show them that they can trust us. We will not run away, abuse or abandon them at the first sign of negative behaviors. Instead, we will embrace them for the individuals that they are, and love them through the transition stages. 9. Have more than one outlet for expressing their feelings. Paper and crayons should always be available to the children to express how they are feeling. Non verbal communication is key to the inner psyche, especially when the children are young. 10. Foster self respect and self esteem. This is achieved through praising positive behaviors, and ensuring children have access to things that really make them happy. If one child draws a picture, put it up so everyone can see it. Make a big deal out of it! It’s a unique masterpiece, by a budding artist. Fostering self worth and self esteem is paramount to the children’s future success. 11. The tias should talk to each child about why they are perfect and special. This should not be a generic statement…the kids will know this immediately. These words need to come from the heart, and the individual saying it really needs to mean it. All children need to know that they unique individuals, perfect and special in their own ways, and that their future potential is limitless. The only limits children will have on themselves are the ones we place there. Let these kids grow up thinking they can and will achieve anything they put there minds to! 12. Have a specific debriefing time with the tias on a weekly basis. A caregiver that feels unappreciated or overwhelmed is counterproductive. We need to create an excellent working environment for the staff and positive alternatives for difficult children when the tias run out of ideas. Scheduled regular weekly outings are an excellent way to motivate the kids, giving them all something to look forward to. This could also be used as a teaching tool (for example, we clean litter off the beach because we want to have a healthy ocean for turtles and fish to live in) With good intentions, a sense of humor and unconditional love and understanding, positive behavior modification is an excellent method to instill responsible behaviors and teach life skills to children, regardless of socioeconomic status. And while there may be times where your patience is tried, always remember that children are products of their environment and will model your behaviors. To raise children is a privilege and a blessing that should never be taken for granted.
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