Parenting or teaching a child with emotional and behavioral deficits can be challenging on many levels. What 3 essentials skills (or group of skills) are necessary to be an effective parent or teacher of students with emotional behavior disorders?
Under most circumstances, I recommend positive reinforcement strategies to foster behavior. Punishment is the application of a negative event or the removal of a negative event. It has been used to reduce disruptive, annoying, and self-injurious behaviors. The term punishment has come to take on a negative connotation due its misuse over the years. However, when used correctly and ethically, certain forms of punishment have been shown to be very effective changing behavior.
Today I’m going to talk about what I call “Back it Up”. This is a term I use when I want a student (or my own kids) to “fix” a problem behavior, usually one that creates a problem for others. It is based on a behavior analytic procedure called overcorrection. Overcorrection consists of restitutional overcorrection and/or positive practice overcorrection. It combines the reductive effects of punishment and the educative effects of positive practice. I’m sure many of you have heard the stories of the child caught smoking and then having to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes. The difference here is that you want the person to practice the correct behavior. Clearly they already know how do it incorrectly, so I wouldn’t have the child practice the incorrect one.
“Back it Up” can occur in several forms. One form is restitution, which is having the person do what a normal individual might do to correct a situation. A child knocks over a another child’s toys, he picks them up. Restitution is intended to help the individual experience the effort needed to restore the damage and may cause them not to repeat the behavior because of the inconvenience of correcting or rectifying the situation. This may cause the person to realize that time and effort are needed to correct irresponsible action. Combine this with a caring atmoshpere and the person may decide to take responsibility for his/her actions. This makes this form of punishment better than other forms because of the intention to teach appropriate behavior and responsibility for ones actions. This is more of a treatment package because it’s not solely a punishment procedure, rather it’s a combination of positive punishment and positive reinforcement. You’re adding an aversive event, having to clean up the toys (punishment), but also providing positive feedback for doing it correctly (positive reinforcement). In Love and Logic terms this is referred to as the Energy Drain.
Another form of “Back it Up” is restitutional overcorrection, where the person corrects the product of their misbehavior by restoring the situation to not just as-good-as, but a better state from before the event. If student were to write on his desk, cleaning the desktop would be considered restitution. However, having the student clean all of the desktops in the classroom is restitutional overcorrection. During a tantrum a student might knock over a chair. Restitutional overcorrection would be that the student would then have to straighten all the chairs in the classroom. If the student yells an insult, he may then have to give a compliment to everyone in class, or give several compliments to the offended person.
The third form of “Back it Up” is positive practice overcorrection. In this situation, the person practices an activity using the appropriate desired behavior. Repeatedly placing trash into the trash container. A student who repeatedly enters a classroom loudly might be required to practice the appropriate steps of entering the classroom and being seated. Part of the intervention is predicated on having the person do what a normal individual might do to avoid the situation. As part of a debrief, I might say, “We could do it this way once, or we can practice doing it many times” (notice I don’t say how many times, this is a deviation from the literature which supports setting a number or length of time). A student who repeatedly hugs people without consent, might need to practice asking and accepting being told no.
Recommendations for implementing a “Back it Up” intervention:
1. Continuously and systematically monitoring in order to provide prompts during restitution or positive practice. When behaviors occur at a high rates, differential reinforcement procedures such as DRO, DRI may be a better option, instead of overcorrection. Whenever possible reinforce incompatible behavior, or behaviors that cannot occur at the same time as the problem behavior. (i.e. having hands in lap cannot happen at same time as scratching you)
2. The person may, and can often times be expected to, refuse to cooperate at first. They may be disruptive such as cry, scream, and whine or even escalate to physically aggressive behaviors. This can be reduced by being prepared, offering limited structured choices, or having students setting overcorrection as part of a goal for changing their behavior. The use of positive verbal prompts and authority statements as well as providing time-out first or during overcorrection helps to minimize disruptions. Consistently applying the intervention helps reduce problems in the long term.
3. Selecting and implementing restitutional and positive practice activities can be difficult at times. Considerations must be made for the behavior of concern, the environment, time, availability of staff, materials, etc.
4. If not careful, overcorrection procedures can inadvertently increase the frequency, duration, or intensity of an inappropriate behavior as well as collateral behaviors. An initial increase of behavior or other similar behaviors is sometimes likely due to reinforcing effects created by the amount of attention associated with these interventions. Make sure to provide minimal positive feedback and attention during overcorrection. Also, be sure that this is not the only opportunity the person has to access social forms of reinforcement.
5. Make the practice as closely related to the type of misbehavior as possible. A child may break an item in the classroom and may not be able to replace it, but he could pick up the pieces. He doesn’t just sit against the wall at recess to “think about it”.
6. Keep observation notes and records, data is essential to determining the success or failure of your intervention.
7. Have I mentioned the word positive (not to be confused with reinforcing)? An intervention that is negative and aversive may reduce problematic behaviors. However, the chances of teaching new replacement behaviors are less likely since punishment procedures alone do not teach behaviors. There is also a risk of new misbehaviors or an increase escape/avoidance behaviors as a result of aversive interventions. Remember our interventions should never cause harm.
I have used positive practice to train students to use their calming strategies. For example, when they practice using their strategies in a contrived “time out” or self initiated break situation, they receive acknowledgement and positive attention for doing so. A student might use this as they feel a problem is about to occur or they might use it to stop a violent behavior. This strategy could be used prior to an event and help prevent other, and possibly more aversive interventions. It’s also great as a follow up to an apology. An apology is more readily accepted when you “Back it Up”!
This is not intended nor shall it be misconstrued as advice. As always, before engaging in any any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., &; W. L. Heward. (2007) Applied behavior analysis Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education Inc.
Love and Logic http://www.loveandlogic.com
This is a common theme that surfaces in my discussions with teachers and administrators. I felt it important to share again, since it often times seems more difficult for the adults to give up or share control than it is for children. It’s a somewhat more mentalistic perspective than I normally present, but sometimes doing the work starts with mindset.
If you’re anything like me, you may have a difficult time controlling all the parts of your own life. If you have to control another person’s life on top of that, you’re going to get tired very quickly. Throw in a classroom of little lives to control and you’re on the rode to a breakdown sooner rather than later! As parents and teachers we often battle over control with our kids and students. I admit there are many times that I can be found guilty of the crime of power hunger. The hardest part about power and control is recognizing whether you have too much of it or too little. Our behavior tends to give us subtle hints even when we aren’t overtly thinking about it. We usually react when there is an imbalance of control whether we consciously realize it or not.
Often times we talk about children choosing behavior for control. We need to consider that control can take on more than one form. When looking at patterns of behavior, we have to answer the question, is the child attempting to gain control or does he already have it? We frequently feel the need to take charge and remove all opportunities for control. Having an iron fist of control in the classroom or at home is much like squeezing putty in your hands, as you squeeze tighter the putty inevitably seeps out. However by attempting to exert all the power and control you unintentionally lose it. In an attempt to hoard all opportunities for control, you create a condition in which the children make every attempt to gain some semblance of control in their lives.
Here we have two conditions. In the first condition one person has too much control. In the other condition the person has too little. Most people would like harmony in their lives and most of us would like to be fun to be around. In order to create this harmony we have to be able to create a balance of control. To do this, ask yourself these questions:
What is being controlled?
Contrary to popular belief, “control” itself is not a function of behavior. Therefore you must ask yourself what specifically is being controlled? At its most fundamental, behavior occurs either to gain access to something or to escape/avoid something. Knowing the behavioral function will help you make sure you’re addressing the behavior from the right perspective and avoiding unnecessary power struggles. See Functions of Behavior: Everybody E.A.T.S.
Is there a balance?
Good vs. bad, black vs. white, right vs. wrong, action and reaction, there are always forces at work that create a balance. Is control any different? A big step toward progress is to recognize that the scales of control are off balance.
Who has the control?
Does one person have the upper hand in the situation? If the child has the control, you’re going to need to set limits in order to regain some. If you have the control, guess what, it’s time to give some up in order to restore balance.
What am I willing to share?
Sometimes the hardest decision to make is what you are willing to give up, especially when you are used to having it all. Contrary to popular belief, most of the time, providing a child with choices is actually okay. You can have control by setting the limits and providing structure to the choices, the child gets control over which choice to make. Sounds like a win-win situation doesn’t it?
What am I willing to keep?
Sometimes it’s necessary to hold on to the choices. Situations involving safety usually come to mind here. Everybody has some “have to’s”, just don’t let them prevent you from finding some middle ground.
When we have too much or too little control over our lives we become stressed. When this happens we tend to overreact or under react and end up in the power struggles that we are trying to avoid. Remember that if control is not given, it will eventually be taken.
I love clicker training! Over the years I’ve used clickers to train chickens, dogs, fish (using a visual “click”), and even students in the classroom. My first experience using a clicker for shaping was back in 1999 when I attended a two day workshop by Bob Bailey and his wife, Marian Breland Bailey. I learned to teach a chicken how to discriminate between and peck colored discs. In the 1940s, Marian and Keller Breland, both former students of B.F. Skinner, trained animals for animal acts.
A clicker is a device with a metal strip that when pushed, makes a “clicking” sound. The most common form is the box clicker you would find at the checkout counter at PetSmart. See the picture above to see some examples. These days, animal trainers and teachers can buy all kinds of clickers (and accessories) as well as receive clicker newsletters, attend seminars, books and other training materials. Do a search for “clicker training” on Amazon.com and you can see for yourself.
How does the concept of shaping work? Shaping is a procedure based on the principles of operant conditioning. To use behavior analytic terms, we say in clicker training that an unconditioned stimulus, such as food, is paired with a neutral stimulus (the click), and the neutral stimulus eventually becomes a conditioned stimulus. In plain English, you pair the click sound with giving the learner a treat so that eventually the “click” becomes something that is desired because it is always associated with getting a treat. But that is only the beginning.
Shaping is a process of systematically reinforcing successive approximations to an end behavior. Actions displayed that are not approximations to the end behavior are ignored and not reinforced. Through these experiences, the learner acquires the new behavior. So if I was trying to teach someone to sit in a chair, I would click and reinforce behaviors that brought her closer to the chair until eventually she sits in the chair. (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007)
If you’ve never done clicker training, you can easily get warmed up by playing the Shaping Game (also known as the Training Game) with a group of friends or students. You’re going to use a person as your “animal”. You’ve probably played this game before in another form. Remember the Hot and Cold game? The shaping game is similar to the old kid’s game where something would be hidden for a child to find. As the child got closer to the hidden object, someone would say, “You’re getting warmer.” Functionally, “you’re getting warmer” is like the click that tells a learner he is doing the right thing. We actually did this with some special Christmas gifts for our kids. I’ve used a variation of this game, as well as clicker games, in the classroom to teach my EBD students awareness of the response consequence chain. See below how you can play the Shaping Game in the classroom.
The Shaping Game
1. Have one person agree to be the learner (the person whose behavior will be shaped), and have the learner leave the room.
2. Whoever is left in the room will choose a behavior that will be shaped. For example, you may want the person to come in, walk to a particular table in the room, and pick up a glass. Know what you want the learner to do BEFORE you start! Choosing a behavior is important in playing the shaping game. You want to be a humane trainer, and people may be reluctant to do something considered socially inappropriate (like hugging someone they don’t know or who doesn’t like to be touched). Participants are also unlikely to try a behavior they simply can’t do and will result in embarrassment if they try.
3. Now that the desired behavior has been determined, have the learner reenter in the room. She does not know what the behavior is.
4. As the learner starts moving in the right direction, click the clicker. If she goes the wrong way, say and do nothing. Click each time she is approaching or moving toward what you want her to do.
Don’t have a group of students to work with? That’s okay, ask friends or family members to help you practice shaping. This is also a great icebreaker and a fun staff development activity for teachers in behavior support classrooms for EBD and Autism.
Check out Karen Pryor’s site for tips and variations on the shaping game:
See TAGTeach use shaping strategies to teach humans and animals alike.
Cooper, John, & Heron, T., Heward, W. (2007) Applied Behavior Analysis Second Edition. Pearson Education, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ.
Response journals can be a great way to get your students to write. Many of the students I support display avoidance behaviors when writing tasks are assigned to them. One recommendation I often make to my teachers is to use response journaling.
Using a journal you engage in continuous dialogue with the student using writing. You can engage them in topics of their liking while still prompting them to expand of topics of your choosing at the same time. Over time you can shape their writing skills with corrective feedback. Using the same language they choose in their writing, for example, I would respond to this using some of the same words (spelled correctly and highlighted in a different color so the word stands out visually.
As I stated earlier, the conversation continues as long as you maintain it. When a student returns the journal you simply respond. All of the students I work with look forward to my responses and then responding in turn. They often let me know if I’ve gotten behind. Even some of my most ardent writing protesters willingly chose to write in their response journals. Here are some sample response journal prompts:
Write a brief story and ask the student to finish it.
Ask about what they like to do most.
What social skill do you like the most? What social skill do you hate the most?
What is your favorite emotion? Which is your least favorite emotion?
What do think about the last homework assignment I gave you?
Write a compliment about the student.
This is also a good activity for parents to do this at home. Think of it as a fun way to talk and be creative with your kids. Whether at home or in school, response journals are a great way to keep in touch with the social emotional needs of your kids while teaching and modeling an important lifelong skill.
Teachers in behavior support classroom must make efforts every day to teach the students that although they can come to us for support, they belong with their peers. This expectation of belonging all starts with how we set up the environment. A good support classroom for EBD students will emulate a general education classroom as much as possible.
Pictured here is of one of the classrooms I support. The desks are arranged in a fashion that is similar to the general education classes on campus. Originally this room had desks set up in individual “offices” along the edges of the classroom. Likewise, rules and procedures mimic what is expected of students in “mainstream” classes. You might also notice the smartboard projector; there is no reason students should not be exposed and allowed access the to technology. In the year and half since installment we have had 0 incidents involving technology usage in our classrooms. I should have taken a before and after, instead I only have an after.
I believe that sometimes in our quest to individualize we go to the extreme. Unfortunately when a classroom is completely individualized, there is no progress towards “normalizing”. For me the first step towards teaching students how to belong begins with the environment.
I received a letter in the mail the other day from the mother of a former student of mine. Contained in the letter was a touching note from the mother and a graduation announcement and an invitation to attend her sons graduation. Now, I’ve been in this field for awhile and have seen a great many things. But this year I get to witness something new. Yes, this year one of my former students, whom I taught in first through fourth grades in an EBD classroom, will graduate from high school. Back in those days we had so many ups, downs, lefts, rights, forwards, and backwards moments. We had many long days with laughs, cries, questions, arguments, blood, sweat, tears, hugs, and handshakes (all in one day). We also held many meetings with many of the same behaviors (without the blood). He was one of those students that you sit back and wonder “what is he going to be like 10 years from now”?
Today he looks forward to going to college and training to become a veterinary technician (he’s always had a love for animals). I could not feel more proud for him and his family. Through it all I could not help but to be inspired by witnessing this family do everything in their power to help their son succeed.
Eleven years ago I never considered that I’d stay around long enough to see former students graduate. But I am certainly glad that I did. Being able to play a small part in this student’s road to success is definitely something I will always treasure. It is a reminder that just because you do not see the immediate effects of your teaching, you can always still have hope for even your most difficult students.
We all have to put in the time and effort to build positive relationships with students. I’ve recently been working with some staff on building positive relationships with the students in their classroom. Pairing, a process of associating oneself with positive reinforcement through consistently matching yourself with positive stimuli, is a helpful strategy to building (and rebuilding) relationships with students.
Whether it’s a home program or within a classroom, pairing can help establish the relationship between teacher and student. I think pairing is a key component at the beginning of any behavioral program and is essential to the failure or success of your program.
One of the basic premises behind a behavioral program is that students will be much more motivated when they are having fun. Therefore, as a teacher or therapist, you must become fun for the student. Pairing is used to help the child get used to the teacher/therapist and look forward to teaching/therapy sessions. A good way to establish instructional control is for teachers to first connect themselves with positive reinforcement. It begins with noncontingent reinforcement. In other words, the student is first reinforced without having demands placed on him or her. This initially could be in the form of a compliment or tangible item (it depends on what is motivating to the student).
In the beginning, the only requirement for getting access to reinforcement (besides the lack of undesirable behavior) is that the student take the reinforcers from the teacher. Technically speaking, the reinforcement is still contingent, as there must be an absence of undesired behavior (tantrums, aggression, SIB, etc.) for reinforcement to be delivered. However the focus for the teacher/therapist is to seek and provide as many positive reinforcement opportunities for the student as possible.
After this is happening consistently (after several hours or even days), the teacher/therapist must gradually fade in demands; slowly increase the response requirement before reinforcement can be given. Eventually the teacher/therapist will be able to gradually present more demands of varying difficulty. Successful pairing will help ensure the reinforcement value of learning is not lowered while at the same time preventing the increasing the value of escape.
Pairing essentially involves 3 elements which must be in close association with each other:
1) The student The learner who is seeking positive reinforcement
2) The teacher/therapist Becomes the conduit by which the student obtains reinforcement.
3) The student’s desires and reinforcers. The student has to want it, or it’s never going to work.
In order to become a reinforcer themselves, a teacher or therapist will have to capture and contrive MOs/EOs and identify strong reinforcers with which they can be paired. Often times this may mean providing limited access to reinforcing items to certain times of day or under certain conditions in order to increase the desire to obtain them. A teacher/therapist may also have to contrive the setting under which this occurs (such as a space with increased likelihood to obtain reinforcement, such as play areas, play centers, etc.). Once this happens, everything associated with the teacher, especially learning itself, becomes reinforcing.
Whether you are a teacher, therapist, counselor, paraprofessional, administrator, or parent; your position alone does not automatically make you a reinforcing person in a student’s life. Pairing is a systematic way to help you establishing trust and connect yourself with reinforcement. It is this association with that solidifies the child’s view of the therapist as fun and reinforcing. The teacher/therapist becomes a bridge between the student and reinforcers.
This is a simple description of how the pairing process can be implemented in the classroom or at home. I will expand on this in a future post. This is not intended nor shall it be misconstrued as advice. As always, before engaging in any any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
Can elementary-aged kids learn to make good choices by teaching them the “ABCs” of behavior? In my opinion, absolutely! As I’ve mentioned before, it’s all about teaching children patterns. A good place to start is by explaining the “ABCs” of behavior. Kids learn that there is always an Antecedent, or trigger, for a particular Behavior. For every behavior, there is a Consequence. Students may not be able to control the antecedents, but they can learn to control their responses to them. Then, by their responses they can either gain access to favorable consequences, or escape and avoid negative ones.
Most children naturally desire more control over their lives, and effective parents and teachers show them how. Learning to make choices about their behavior helps children gain the independence they want. A key element in all this is teaching students what is considered appropriate or acceptable behavior, and what is considered as inappropriate behavior. For a lot our kids, this may be their first time learning how and why they should behave differently. For others, they have learned through experience that misbehavior has gained access to or escape certain conditions.
Therefore, you have to establish what is and is not acceptable from the beginning. A good recommendation is to discuss classroom and rules of the house:
- What specifically do they look like when performed properly?
- What should you hear when performed properly?
- What are the expectations for when they go from one place to another or one classroom to another?
Clear and simple explanations with their examples and non-examples leave nothing open for misinterpretation. To accomplish this, video modeling, role-play, and contrived real-life situations help make this information tangible for the students. You can also pre-plan or debrief scenarios and real-life events using behavior maps. A behavior map provides a visual of the antecedent-behavior-consequence chain. You then guide them to identify what to fill in for each part of the map, the trigger, their behavior choice(s), and the consequence obtained.
From here on out it’s a matter of follow-up. You can pre-teach situations in which they must use the skills they have learned to gain positive outcomes. Once in those situations you can reinforce through praise or providing access to those desired outcomes. Initially some form of tangible reward will help to reinforce the behavior. Many people use token economy systems to provide immediate feedback, tokens can be later exchanged for backup reinforcers (prizes, activities, etc). Over time, tangible rewards can be faded out and social rewards faded in until eventually “good” behavior often becomes reward itself.
Now I make this sound easy and like it happens overnight. Unfortunately, behavior change takes time and patience, as well as being fairly systematic in your approach. There is a degree of precision required, and before starting any major behavior change program you should consult an expert or highly trained professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
Parents and teachers make all kinds of sacrifices in their jobs and lives. When dealing with a crisis situations there are many risks and sacrifices that must be made. I was recently asked by an administrator, “When is enough, enough?” I can answer that question for myself. Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question for another person.
I’ve done this job for a long time and I have sacrificed a great many things in order to foster long term positive behavior change for the students with whom I work. I have sacrificed time with my family, my own emotional health, and even my body at times to promote social emotional well-being for my students (and their teachers). See And I would do it all over again! to see examples.
Working with severe chronic behavior requires extreme ‘chronic’ intervention. In order to foster change you have to realize you have that student for a purpose. If everything else had worked in the past, they wouldn’t be there. You have to be willing and able to put forth the time and effort to make it work. Sometimes this is difficult because behaviors can spike to almost intolerable levels once extinction procedures are implemented. However, with a crisis plan in place for how to deal with these issues, you should be able to “ride out the storm” per say and come out safely in the end.
Knowing what it is going to take in order to promote change for the better is essential. That being said, working through chronic intense behaviors is not for everyone and not every intervention is for everyone. Sometimes to make a difference you can only come as close to that ideal as possible. There are limits afterall. But think of how much sooner you can make a difference if you could go all the way. To do that, you will have to know ahead of time what you are willing to sacrifice to get there. Knowing that you are willing to give something up is better than having someone take it away from you.
So my question for you is, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to truly promote behavior change for your kids?