Parenting is never an easy journey. As parents, teachers and caregivers, we always strive to provide the best for the child, but there are days where we just can’t seem to satisfy them. Instead, their cries and tantrums fuel a sense of frustration and helplessness. But the truth is, parenting does not need to turn into a daily battle of wills. The key is to understand what affects behaviour and how to effectively manage it. This can reduce the occurrence of tantrums, and even help the child learn more effective ways of communication.
These behaviour management strategies can be summed up easily into a 3-step approach (which you have probably heard): The A-B-C paradigm. It is used to analyse behavior in three simple steps; the antecedent (A), the behaviour (B), and the consequence (C). You do not need to be a behavioral therapist to pick up some of these tips.
The A (Antecedent) – trigger/cause of the behavior that follows. Let's see how we can apply this to modify behaviors.
One way is the use of prompts. Let’s say you would like to encourage your child to brush his teeth every night before bed. Starting with a verbal prompt, you could say “Let’s go brush teeth”. Then you could physically prompt your child by holding his hand and walking him to the bathroom. Next you could use a visual prompt or model how you would normally brush your own teeth i.e. squeezing the toothpaste onto the toothbrush and going back and forth with the toothbrush. Keep your prompts short and specific without varying your instructions too much especially in the beginning to help your child understand your end goal. As he gradually understands what is required of him, you will find that you will not need to provide as many prompts as you first had to.
In short, we are creating a behavior or habit that's desirable.
The B (Behaviour) – what my child does in response to the antecedent.
Using the same example as above, verbally prompting (antecedent) your child to brush teeth will result in the behavior of brushing teeth.
The C (Consequence) - how my reactions increase or decrease the occurrence of a behaviour in the future?
The last step of any behavioural management strategies is the most crucial step and involves understanding how the use of consequences can help to either build or eliminate a behaviour. For instance, praising your child after he brushes his teeth will increase the behavior of brushing his teeth in future.
Consequences can either refer to a positive or a negative reinforcement, and usually works well when presented immediately after a behaviour. Do not wait or delay the reinforcement as this will make any strategy that you use ineffective. Also, corporal punishments or aggression are usually avoided as it does not help your child to develop the behaviour that you want in the long run. Do check out our article on using corporal punishment here: Instead, understanding how to use praises effectively and how to be firm without being aggressive is a more effective way to impact changes in behaviours.
Praises are one of the easiest and most readily available positive reinforcements as it can be delivered immediately to reward a good behaviour, and can also be varied depending on the child’s efforts. It is important to praise even a small occurrence of the behaviour as every effort on the child’s part contributes to shaping the behaviour towards the end goal. If you find that your praises seem to have little effect on your child’s, it may be because your child does not know what you are praising him for, or has not understood the behaviours which can earn him your praise.
The most effective praises are specific and sincere. This is because being specific helps your child understand exactly what you are expecting from him. For example if your child has followed your instructions to keep his toys, you can praise him for the specific act by saying “Well done you kept your toys!”.
Also, to deliver your praises more genuinely, you can engage your body language by adding a big smile and a gentle pat to make the praise even more effective, or praise your child enthusiastically especially if he has followed your instructions independently without any prompts.
Another key to making praises work is consistency. This means that you are ready to praise your child as and when he is showing the behavior that you want. Every good behavior that you are able to “catch” will gradually increase his likelihood of displaying the desired behavior in the future. Eventually you will be able to fade praises off after your child understands what behaviors are desirable and become his habit.
On the other hand, a common behavioural issue many parents face is temper tantrums. Tantrums can be reduced by using behavioural techniques that does not require the use of punishment, and may even allow you to turn the situation into a teachable moment. While it is important to know the triggers of a child’s tantrums, it is never advisable to give in to the child’s temper tantrums.
Giving in is signaling to the child that he can adopt the same strategy every time he wants something, or even to get away with what he doesn’t want. Instead, maintain a calm composure but do stay within close reach of your child in case he accidentally hurts himself.
The goal here is to teach your child to communicate with you each time he wants or does not want something.
If your child is showing signs of a tantrum, quickly prompt him to respond in a more appropriate manner by verbalising his feelings or wants. For example, “Can I have the truck?” or “Stop, I don’t like that”. Rather than telling your child what is wrong, it is more effective to tell your child what is right instead. A very important follow- up step the moment he starts displaying desired behavior is to quickly reinforce him by giving him what he asked for, and to praise him for his efforts by saying “Good job! You used your words!”. You may find our article on managing tantrums and meltdown helpful and can be found here.
Remember that any behaviour can be dealt with in a 3-step approach by using the A-B-C to help you plan what you can do before, during, and after a behaviour. Just like a child who needs practise in order to learn a new behaviour, you can also take some time to familiarise yourself with the technique in order to be effective in your behavioural management strategies.
Sometimes it takes more than one (or a few) attempts for your child to follow through independently on your instructions. If you feel that you have to tackle multiple bad behaviours, start off by first identifying one or two behaviours that you would like to work with and break down the behaviour into smaller and achievable steps. Then focus on getting your child as many opportunities as possible to practise the behaviours that you want. An essential point to note is that behaviours are learnt overtime and usually require repetitions and practices in order to teach a child a new behaviour or correct an unwanted one. But the good news is that all behaviours can be worked with given enough time!
Written by Marjorie