Finding Balance Between Punishment and Reinforcement

A few weeks ago one of my friends bought a new puppy. She was telling me that the puppy continued to go after one specific piece of wood furniture even after several reprimands. I smirked as my friend was telling me this because I knew exactly what was going on. Behavior is relatively similar for animals as well as for humans. Either the puppy’s desire to eat the wood furniture was stronger than the reprimand or the puppy enjoyed any kind of attention, even negative. 

Here’s the thing, punishment isn’t inherently bad. Punishment has immediate effects and can be useful. However, it has severe negative effects and needs to be used with an alternative behavior to replace it. For instance, the reprimand my friend’s puppy was continuing to receive wasn’t enough to stop the behavior. What the puppy needed was for them to show her what was acceptable behavior. 

Many of us can remember a time where we were in trouble and consequently received a reprimand, time out, or sent to our rooms. Research shows that with long periods of punishment and without properly including an alternative behavior some of these will occur: 

  • Higher rates of aggression from the one being punished
  • Avoidance of the person implementing the punishment
  • Guilt/shame

Reinforcement, even though it is used more frequently in behavior analysis because of the side effects being less intense, has side effects as well. 

  • Decrease in desired behavior in other settings (doing homework at home but failing to do work at school)
  • Nagging to gain reinforcement
  • Becoming dependent on the reinforcer to engage in the behavior (only does chores when receiving the reinforcer)

Creating a positive and safe environment in your home is all about finding balance between punishment and reinforcement. 

The biggest things to remember are: 

  1. Why is the behavior happening? (Escape, Attention, for a Tangible item, self-stimulatory/automatic behavior)
  2. What method will produce the best results? If the behavior is dangerous than a quicker method such as punishment could produce fast results, however it could also be damaging if it increases the dangerous behavior (such as aggression becoming heightened) 
  3. What is the alternative/expected behavior? Have you identified the behavior you would like to see? Have you verbally expressed this with your child? 
  4. Have you modeled or role played the alternative/expected behavior? Everyone learns in different ways. While some of us are auditory and can understand with just a verbal instruction, others need to see it visually or kinesthetically. 

The above tips will help as a reminder when behaviors are increasing and you’re feeling overwhelmed. Hopefully this creates a balance in your parenting as well as providing harmony in your house.


5 Steps for Pinpointing Social Skills

Pinpointing answers the simple question of “what am I teaching?” A pinpoint is a clear description and countable unit of behavior in a specific context. Pinpoints help for clarity across teams, so you know a behavior when you see it. Being social and having social skills does not come easy for some. It can be difficult for the children and clients to engage in social skills, but it can also be difficult for the providers and teams to identify. They keep everyone on the team of a client stay on the same page, as well as making it easier to reinforce and measure. While working on social skills for a client there are four different areas that can be targeted. These include conversations, groupwork, classroom participation, and emotional regulation. Here are the five steps to creating a pinpoint for social skills. 

  1. Select a behavior with the furthest reaching effect. The first question to ask is “what is the biggest problem behavior?” This could also include a problem behavior that is common to all various problems. 
  2. Make sure this behavior passes the “dead person’s test.” This is a technique that asks the simple question of “can a dead person perform the behavior.” If you answer yes, the dead man can do that behavior, then select a different behavior to practice or change. Behaviors like laying down, staying in seat, and being quiet would not pass the “dead person’s test.”
  3. Create a movement cycle. The movement cycle must be observable, repeatable, and contains movement. The first step would be selecting an action verb such as raise, say, or shift. Next, make the verb present tense like says or raises. Last, select the singular object that the verb will act upon. This creates movement cycles like raises hand, stacks block, or shifts gaze. 
  4. Complete pinpoint by adding context. This is where and when you want the behavior to occur. Adding context could include phrases like “during play” and “when meeting a new person.” Context is the difference between a behavior being socially acceptable and socially awkward. You do not want your client to raise their hand while sitting at the dinner table, but you do want your client to raise their hand while sitting in class. Putting the movement cycle with the context creates the desired pinpoint. This could look like “stacks block during play,” or “shakes hand when meeting a new person.” 
  5. The last step is testing the pinpoint. An effective pinpoint captures everything you are measuring and excludes everything you are not measuring. Then have others count the targeted pinpoint and compare answers. These are tactics to ensure that your pinpoint created is accurate and keeps the team on the same page. 

There are five major areas that you could apply your newly created pinpoint to for your child’s goals. While working on the first area, conversations, you could pinpoint behaviors like changing topics, responding to a teacher/adult when a greeting is given, or asking open ended questions. If the child or client’s goal is responding to a teacher’s greeting then the pinpoint could state, “shifts gaze and says greeting statement to adult after adult greets them.” For groupwork, pinpoints could focus on the child offering suggestions or looking at a peer when saying an answer. Pinpoints created for classroom participation looking at speaker during teacher lead directives, raising hand, or getting folder. Emotional regulation is one of the more difficult areas to create pinpoints for. These social skills focus on identifying when the client needs to use a relaxation tool when triggered, and then utilizing relaxation tools. By using the five steps listed above to create a pinpoint, a potential pinpoint could be “uses relaxation tool when cued by adult.” 

Pinpoints are helpful for several reasons, like keeping behavior descriptions clear and measurable. Creating a pinpoint with these five steps will keep all the providers on the same page when it comes to the client’s behaviors. This is important for accurate data collection and measurement, as well as reinforcement. First identify the target behavior that passes the “dead person’s test,” create a movement cycle, add context, and then test it. Pinpointing for social skills could target conversations, groupwork, classroom participation, and emotional regulation. Social skills can be difficult for clients to engage in and providers to identify, but these five steps help make it easier. 



Peacock, K. MS, BCBA. Pinpointing Social Skills. Central Reach. Retrieved from

Power Of Choice

Have you ever wondered what it is like to have Autism? As a neurotypical person or a person without a diagnosis, it is difficult to understand or identify how it feels to be a person with a diagnosis. While researchers continue to try to gain information on how it may feel to have Autism, there’s no easy way to gain that information. Further, it may be hard to simply ask those with Autism to describe what it’s like because they can’t quantify it. While as parents, educators, advocates ,and therapists we may never understand what it’s like for those diagnosed with Autism, there are some ways to ensure that we foster their input into their daily lives. 


Are they able to thrive as they are? What are some ways to allow them to feel that they are a part of their day? Some ideas are giving them choices, providing them with schedules that they can give input to, picking an extracurricular activity, etc. 

Are choices incorporated into their day? For instance, a nonvocal child may not be able to verbally say what they want for breakfast, but if you place two items in front of them they may direct a part of their body towards one option. 

Are they allowed to be involved in their day/therapy/education? While a four year old may not be able to sit in an IEP meeting or understand the complexities of it, he can tell you what he likes and dislikes. If he’s super interested in trains, incorporate trains in whatever way is possible. 

Are they listened to/heard? Even non-vocal people communicate with some type of noise/cue to say no. If they say no, are their requests honored when appropriate? Sometimes it may be impossible to honor the request but if they’re looking for space or a break, are they given that when possible? 

In the typical hustle and bustle of the day this may be overwhelming or daunting. Currently though, there is an opportunity where many are staying at home often and routines are simplified. This may take time and practice, particularly during this time of change, but it could be the perfect time to take a step back and start new habits. A daily routine is essential, so it’s important to have those with Autism engaged in creating their schedule as much as possible. Eventually they will be in the driver’s seat of their daily life so let’s help them to make that transition as easy as possible. It may be scary to initially give them a small choice, and it may feel like they are starting out on the road for the first time, but looking back later and seeing them flourish will be worth it. 

How to Help Teach Children About Covid-19

This is a stressful and confusing time for all of us. There’s a lot of unknowns in our minds of how long our lives will temporarily be in the status they are in, with us all trying to socially distance and stay at home as much as possible. This is especially confusing for children who do not fully understand the impact of Covid-19. Asking children to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently,  no longer see friends or extended family, and having their schools closed brings about a lot of emotions and uncertainty. It can also be confusing to see others  wearing masks in the community, particularly in places where they did not previously see them such as the grocery store and gas station. 

Here are a few resources and ways that may aid in teaching about Covid-19:

  1. Tara Tuchel, a Speech Language Pathologist, has several free resource aids and social stories including stories on: what is Covid-19, Schools staying closed, distance learning, wearing a mask, and seeing other people wear masks. She even has a wearing a mask coloring book for children! These stories are made with simple concepts that can help your children become more familiarized with everything happening in their community. 
  2. Amanda Mc Guiness, an Autism Educator, has a free printable calendar with a visual “no school” icon for non-vocal children or a child that may need a visual calendar to remind them daily that school is closed for the day. 
  3. AutismSpeaks collaborated with Autism Certification Center to provide free access until June 1st  to video learning and resources to the Autism community. 
  4. The National Autism Association has several free resources including a hand washing tutorial, several Covid-19 social stories and resources for caretakers as well. 

While there isn’t much that can be done at this time to change our home status, these tools can aid in providing helpful conversation and visuals to reduce stress and anxiety. At the end of this, the hope is that we can look back on this time and remember fondly being able to stay at home and keep our health as a priority. Continue to take care of your children and those with Autism and tell them that all of their therapists and BCBA’s miss them and hope to see them soon!

Critical Steps for Starting Strong with Functional Communication Training

Every day we communicate to one another in some form.  It may be a verbal conversation, a gesture, or a picture.  Communication plays a large role in our daily lives.  Communication for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may develop aversive behaviors in order to communicate.  The goal of Functional Communication Training (FCT) is to find an appropriate way for the message to be received.  However, the first and most critical step is to know where to begin with the individual.

To start, in past interviews, when given a choice between FCT and other interventions, both the individuals and the caregivers preferred FCT.  This is one reason it has become common practice in working with individuals with ASD (Hanley et al., 1997).

One of the first steps is to find the function of the behavior.  What is it that the individual wants?  Do they want something to eat? A certain toy? Attention (Harding et al., 2009)?  Knowing what the motivation is for the individual will create a foundation for obtaining it appropriately.

The second step is to know the individual’s learning history.  If the person is able to say one-word phrases, it is recommended to start with that word and add more to the sentence at a later time.  For example:  An individual pushes items off a table.  They do this any time they want to have a glass of milk.  The individual has repeated the word milk in the past.  You see them head to the table to push the items off, you block them and then give them the instruction; say “milk”.  The child repeats the word and you immediately hand them the milk (Tiger, Hanley, & Bruzek, 2008).

Prompting is used to reach the appropriate behavior.  The caregiver needs to be sure the individual is successful in obtaining the item with the correct response.  Prompts will assure that the appropriate behavior will encounter the item before and more frequently than the aversive behavior.  It may be a physical prompt (assisting the individual to reach for a picture card instead of grabbing the item), or a verbal prompt (“Instead of whining, you can say ‘break please’”).  Depending on the individual’s learning history, different prompts may be used.  Once the behavior is displayed independently, thinning the prompts is the next step.

Having the wanted item ready is a critical step. In order to teach the new behavior, the item to access must be easier to obtain with the new behavior.  It also has to be delivered immediately after the new behavior is displayed.  This should reduce the aversive behavior.  As in the example above, saying “milk” should be easier than pushing items off a table. The item will also be delivered more frequently if it asked for appropriately.

FCT also focuses on the end goal of the individual.  The individual may start with one picture card and at the end use a full sentence strip.  The goal should be socially appropriate and understood by anyone the individual comes in contact with.  The individual may use a certain sign to indicate a specific item, but out in the community they may not be understood.  Shaping up a phrase is also one of the end goals for an individual.  A parent or provider can work on using a one word phrase and focus on shaping it until it is clear.

Using generalized or simple word may also help an individual obtain their want.  A word like “toy” or “snack” will help to reduce the aversive behaviors by then offering a choice of different toys or snacks.   Motivators change over time.  A cookie will not always be motivating, especially if they have already had five of them and are full.

Another important step is to make sure the person wants the item.  If they do not want it, they will not ask for it.  Studies have looked at both contrived and natural environments for teaching FCT.  Both showed increases in responding, but the natural environment showed better generalization and enhanced motivation.

In summary, to effectively teach FCT, you must:

  1. Know the function of the behavior.
  2. Know the individual’s skill set
  3. Prompt for beginning success
  4. Have the motivating item ready so the individual may obtain it faster, easier, and more frequently than when they engage in the aversive behavior.
  5. Know your end goal.
  6. Use generalized words to promote generalization.
  7. Know if the item is still motivating.


Hanley, G. P., Piazza, C. C., Fisher, W. W., Contrucci, S. A., & Maglieri, K. A. (1997). Evaluation of client preference for function-based treatment packages.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,30(3), 459-47.

Harding, J. W., Wacker, D. P., Berg, W. K., Lee, J. F., & Dolezal, D. (2009). Conducting functional communication training in home settings: A case study and recommendations for practitioners.Behavior Analysis in Practice,2(1), 21-33.

Tiger, J.H., Hanley, G. P., & Bruzek, J. (2008). Functional communication training: A review and practical guide.Behavior Analysis in Practice,1(1), 16-23.

Handwriting Skills for Those with Special Needs

Handwriting is one of the most essential skills for learners all over the world. It is something that can be a challenging skill for learners with special needs to master. As educators, we have the responsibility to help children learn this skill, and this can be achieved by implementing a learning program. A well-devised learning program for people with special needs consists of: a teaching plan, a practice plan, and a measurement plan.

According to Elizabeth Haughton, a highly recognized educational consultant with over 25 years of experience, a teaching plan has to take into consideration the following:

  1. Posture, the position of the paper, and pencil holding
  2. Marks, numbers, and letter formations
  3. The spacing of words and the ability for a learner to copy from a board or other paper
  4. Neatness
  5. Modeling OFTEN
  6. Showing support through modeling, gestural, verbal and physical prompts

The speed and neatness of writing are the criteria that define acceptable levels of writing by learners. If possible, the learner should be encouraged to self-evaluate their writing. It is suggested that they are asked to think about what they wrote well and have them consider what they may need to work on more. Teachers should be modeling acceptable formations of specific letters or words. Lastly, the task should be enjoyable and never tedious.

In order for a child with special needs to be successful in writing, they need repetition and implantation of a practice plan. A practice plan to achieve outstanding results should take these components into consideration:

  1. The accuracy and frequency of what they’re writing are equally important
  2. Practice for the learner can be timed or untimed
  3. The usage of multi-channels like think-write (learner thinks about something then writes about it), see-write-copy (sees something, writes something then copies it), and hear-write (hears something out loud and then writes it)
  4. Setting effective goals and clear expectations for the learner
  5. Honoring the learner by reinforcing them with what they like
  6. Always try to create fun for the learner when they are practicing

There are a variety of activities teachers can implement such as: filling in coloring pages with different marks (lines, dots, circles, etc.), drawing pictures, using templates that they can make designs in or color in, using practice sheets that require a variety of different writing to be completed, and using drawing sheets that explain how to draw something step by step. Teachers can use doodle books which can be fun and relaxing for the learner and help develop fine motor movements. Doing a combination of these things can help the learner practice while growing their endurance and strength in their hand. If the child has many difficulties writing, teachers can use a blank piece of paper then gradually move to big boxes to small boxes to lines for the learner to write in.

The key to making the complex task of writing more manageable is breaking it down to smaller goals. Teachers should not give children too much at once to practice. Haughton states that we need to follow the child and not a curriculum guide because curriculum guides or writing books are not meant to match children with special needs. Skipping pages and supplementing the writing book (similar to task analysis or shaping) can be useful. Furthermore, the way to know if the small writing goals are achievable is by gauging the learner’s attitude, the teacher’s attitude, and the data taken from what the learner does.

If making marks is difficult for the learner, doing more fine motor practicing by: tracing, dot to dot maze books, coloring, using multiple utensils like paint, markers, crayons, and pens, building with legos or blocks, using a workbench with tools, and cooking by stirring, pouring, rolling and scooping. The last idea she proposes to help develop fine motor skills is to engage the learner in a Big 6 + 6 exercise, which is a series of manual movements the child can practice. The teacher should gather a variety of manipulatives like play-doh, squishy balls, blocks, spray bottles etc., and have the learners do the following like this example:

Big 6      Reach, point, place, touch, grasp, release

+6          Pull, push, shake, squeeze, twist, tap        

These are all ways the learner can practice writing or get ready for that task if they need to first practice fine motor movements.

The final thing Haughton describes that teachers need for an effective learning plan is a measurement plan. The measurement plan takes the following components to invoke precision teaching:

  1. Pinpointing
  2. Measuring
  3. Charting
  4. Analyzing

It is imperative that when teachers measure, they make sure the learner knows how to perform the learning outcome asked of them. Also having the learner, if possible, count what is correct and incorrect from their writing, and consider using a time sample if appropriate. Teachers need to record and chart progress on a graph either on paper or on a computer. A child reaches writing fluency when they can write with accuracy and speed. Measuring the learner’s work will provide the necessary information for how the child is progressing with their writing.

Mastering how to write is important for every person because it is a skill they will use their entire lives. Therefore, having a learning plan in place with a well-devised teaching plan, practice plan, and measurement plan will lead the learner to writing fluency. These are all these suggestions that should be considered when teaching writing skills to students who have special needs.

References: Haughton, E. (2020, April). Retrieved from

5 Ways to Increase Physical Activity for Children

According to the CDC, children from the ages of 6-17 should engage in a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Decreasing time for physical activity, like recess, and an increase in technology have been linked to less physical activity in children. There are several health benefits to physical activity including decreased risk of obesity and growth of healthy bones and muscles. However, physical activity also promotes psychological well-being, reduces depression and anxiety, and could improve academic performance. It’s important to incorporate physical activity into your child’s routine and promote a healthy lifestyle. Some things to consider before adding physical activity to your family’s daily routine include selecting the type of physical activity, identify competing behaviors (work, travel, technology), and identify reinforcers for your children. The physical activity for your little ones should be fun, easy, and achievable. While going over your options consider resources available like parks, trails, classes that are offered, and tracks that are nearby. Here are 5 tips to help keep the little ones active:

  1. Set a specific time each day for physical activity -For younger children and children that benefit from visual prompts, a visual cue could be put in place. One example could be adding riding a bike into your child’s after school routine. Showing a picture of a bike to signal that it’s time for a bike ride helps build this activity into the daily routine. Once the physical activity has become part of the routine you can fade the visual prompt.
  2. Break up the physical activity into more achievable bouts – For your children it might be easier to engage in physical activity for 20 minutes 3 times a day versus 60 minutes all at once.
  3. Work towards a goal or use a token board – Set a goal and reinforcer that is motivating for your child and create a token board. Once your child engages in the desired physical activity, they earn a token (sticker, stamp). After your child earns 10 tokens (or whatever is agreed upon), they earn the set reinforcer they picked out in the beginning.
  4. Improve the skill – It’s said that a skill is more enjoyable when you’re good at what you’re doing. If your child struggles with riding a bike, don’t be afraid to get out there and help. Improving skills may also function as a reinforcer for your child. As they become better at bike riding, for example, they will be more likely to engage in bike riding and want to ride their bike.
  5. Use the “First/Then” approach – Find a reinforcer that is highly motivating for you child like playing on the iPad or playing at the playground. By using “First, play outside for 30 minutes. Then, get 30 minutes on the iPad” you can set clear expectations for your children. Then after time, you can increase the desired time of physical activity once it becomes more routine. Another way to incorporate the “first/then” is biking to the playground or walking to a friend’s house. First the physical activity must be completed, then there is reinforcement.

Including physical activity into your daily routine has several physical and mental health benefits. Use these tips to increase physical activity for your children and help the process.  From taking walks, yoga, riding bikes, to playing outside it’s important to keep your littles moving.

How To Promote Autism Awareness From Home

Did you know this April launches the 50th anniversary of Autism Awareness month? The National Autism Society created Autism Awareness month in 1970 to increase knowledge of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and improve quality of life for those living with the disorder. While a lot has changed since 1970, the need to promote awareness of ASD still remains essential. Typically each year there are large events in several communities nationwide that promote Autism Awareness. Due to the unprecedented current situation with Covid-19, many may be wondering how we can promote Autism Awareness in our communities with the lack of social gatherings.

  1. Share digital resources with those in your community: work, classroom, clubs/organizations
    The National Autism Society and Autism Speaks have impactful online infographics and resources. Get creative outside!
  2. Have your family join you in chalking your driveway or sidewalks with Autism Awareness Month and the hashtag #celebratedifferences
  3. Share with families near your home by putting a little spring activity in their yard! Use spring items such as colored plastic eggs filled with treats and Happy Autism Awareness Month/ #celebratedifferences paper slips inside.
  4. Take a pledge by spreading the word & fundraising online through different social media platforms.
  5. Send snail mail to family and friends expressing the importance of Autism Awareness month and give them this information on how they can help

In times like this, it’s more important than ever to know that you are not alone in the fight to advocate and include those with Autism. While it can seem daunting to try to explain what Autism to people who may have never come into contact with the disorder before, small steps taken each day unites us in helping those with the disorder to be understood and makes our world a little bit brighter.

Three Ways to Help Your Child Communicate

A hot topic with families generally is how to help their family member with Autism communicate. Whether a child uses an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, sign language, or their voice, communication is an area that families and experts see as essential for developmental growth. In Applied Behavior Analysis, there are several ways in which communication is incorporated into a therapy session. 

The founder of ABA, B.F. Skinner broke up communication into different categories:

  • Mands- Any type of vocal communication that indicates something desired (i.e. Joel asks his mom for a cookie on his AAC device) 
  • Echoics- Vocal imitation (i.e. Scarlett’s mom says “Popcorn” and Scarlett repeats by signing “Popcorn”)
  • Tacts- labeling an item (i.e. Brody sees his dog playing outside. He says, “dog”.
  • Intraverbals- a conversation (this can be a statement such as filling in the rest of a song. For instance, Abigail’s Grandma says “Ready, set…” and Abigail finishes the statement, “Go!”)

These four types of communication are incorporated into each child’s session at some point based on their assessment level when they start services. Beyond a session though, family members can increase communication opportunities at home or in the community by doing three things: 

  1. Provide opportunities for the person to communicate. If you’re providing dinner for them, place the plate on the table but intentionally forget the fork so they have the chance to request for it. This increases the amount of times the person has to communicate. That old saying, “practice makes perfect” is actually really valid in the communication world. Give them several moments each day to practice their communication and they will learn and grow from
  2. Participate in vocal play. Even before words exist for a child, babbling and hearing sounds is beneficial. When playing with a child and their train set, make the train sounds. This will give them the option to hear and imitate the sounds that you make. This can also be used if the person babbles at all. For instance, Colt continues to say “eeeee” so his therapist says “eeee” as well. 
  3. Provide opportunities for functional communication training. This is something that can be crucial even further into a child’s development. Provide communication when they are visibly doing something to gain access or avoid something. For instance, John is watching a movie with his parents. He becomes afraid of something on the screen and hides under a blanket. His mom provides some communication for him: “John, I think you’re scared. Do you want to keep watching the movie or do you need a break?” John then requests the break. This can also be utilized for those who are non-vocal or are unable to request a break. For instance, when Addie is approached by a horse at the farm she runs away. Her mom prompts her to use her device and say “no thank you” then gives her different options of animals at the farm they can look at. Addie chooses the goats. 

Communication is a vital skill for development along with being beneficial to express an individual’s needs, wants and thoughts in the home. By utilizing these three tips, communication can flourish in one’s day to day routine even when therapy is unavailable. 


Cooper, J. Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Shane, Joseph, “Increasing Vocal Behavior and Establishing Echoic Stimulus Control in Children with Autism” (2016). Dissertations. 1400.

Sundberg, Mark L. (2008) VB-MAPP Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program :a language and social skills assessment program for children with autism or other developmental disabilities : guide Concord, CA : AVB Press

Considering OUR Behavior as Parents

Generally, when families are referred for ABA services, it is due to the behavior of their child. That behavior can vary from severe to minimal, however if a referral occurs, it means the behavior is interfering in some way with the child’s ability to function in their day to day environment. 

Once ABA services begin, BCBAs and RBTs will work together to collect data and determine the function (The Why?) of the child’s behavior. Treatment plans are written to manipulate the environment so the child can access their “Why” without having to engage in the behavior being treated.  However, there can sometimes be a missing piece to the ever-evolving puzzle.

That missing piece is the function of the parent’s behavior, OUR behavior.  As parents, we often engage in behavior that results in the avoidance of behavior from our children.  For example, my son did not independently put on his own socks and shoes until he started kindergarten. Not because he lacked the ability to. He didn’t do it, because I was always in a rush and did it for him. I didn’t have time to sit there and go through the whining and arguing and whatever other behavior he engaged in on any given day to get out of doing it by himself. He and I were on a merry-go-round of avoidant behavior. Him – avoiding putting on his socks; me – avoiding the whining, as well as being late to work. 

As parents we often find ourselves engaging in behavior that is ‘easier’ than dealing with undesirable behavior from our children.  We only go to the store when they aren’t with us, we do the task for them because it is faster and easier, we cook them dinner, we know they like to avoid the refusal to eat, we hand them the iPad when we’re on the phone so we can concentrate on the phone call. The list goes on and on, and we generally don’t do it knowingly.  

 In an analysis on the contingencies of parent behavior Stocco and Thompson (2015) described differences in participant behavior dependent on child behavior. Less demands were placed on children who engaged in higher rates of problem behavior. Participants also removed non-preferred toys from the environment when those objects were related to an increase in problem behavior.  Children who engaged in less problem behavior were given more demands and non-preferred toys were left in the room. Another study showed that adult participants gave higher levels of reprimands, when those reprimands resulted in the discontinuance of behavior from the child participant. Yet, another study result has shown that parents who excessively help their children with tasks don’t allow the child opportunities to complete the task independently (remember the socks?). (Stocco & Thompson, 2015)  

There are some strategies that can help parents reduce problem behavior from their children while also reducing their own avoidant behavior. 

  1. Start getting ready earlier
    1. If getting dressed independently takes your child a long time, you may start getting ready for an event earlier to allow them the opportunity to do so without being rushed. 
  2. Take shorter trips to the grocery store
    1. If going to the store with your child is a struggle, try taking shorter trips where you only need one or two things, then start increasing the amount of time you spend there with your child. 
  3. Present non-preferred meals with preferred meals
    1. If eating vegetables is difficult, try veggie tots, or even presenting veggies with pizza (not necessarily on the pizza).  

One of the biggest, and most important things we as parents can do is take a step back and consider what the function of our behavior is, our “Why”.  Then we can begin to change our reactions to our children’s behavior to begin meeting their “why” before they (or we) need to engage in an undesirable behavior to get the result we want. 


Stocco, C. S., & Thompson, R. H. (2015). Contingency Analysis of Caregiver Behavior: Implications for Parent Training and Future Directions. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Summer(48), 417-435.