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Download companion Behavior Specific Modification Strategy PDFs here.

There are two parts to creating a successful outcome with a behavior-specific modification strategy.

Part A: Pre-meeting
Part B: Follow-up

The pre-meeting helps the child understand their behavior and how it is affecting both them, and others. During the meeting, you generate replacement behaviors, discuss the modification strategy itself, and then discuss the consequences and rewards for them for holding onto as well as releasing the behavior or habit.

The Pre-meeting has 5 Steps. Here they are:

Discuss the habit in detail.
Discuss the effects of the habit.
Discuss the replacement behavior and its benefits.
Discuss exactly how the BSMS will work
Discuss the rewards and consequences for possible outcomes.

Let’s start with Step 1:

Step one involves having a conversation with your child about the habit in detail.
It also involves describing what you have observed.

Step 1:

Discuss the habit in detail.

When you describe the habit, use non-judgmental, observational language. For example, with Mackenzie’s habit, it would sound like this:

“You have been asking a lot of questions lately. You sometimes ask five or ten questions within a few minutes. You ask questions that have obvious answers. For example, last night when I was spooning the spaghetti onto our plates, you asked, ‘What’s for dinner?’

I love that you are so curious, and that you ask questions. I never want you to stop being curious. But when you ask too many questions, it feels a little exhausting for the rest of us.

Another example is when we are all getting ready to leave. I have four of you to help get ready and many other things I am thinking about when we are working to get out the door with everything we need.

Sometimes you start asking me many questions about what we are doing, where we are going, who is going, what car we are taking and things like that.

Imagine if all of you kids were doing that! It’s a lot for me to get everyone going and also have to answer your questions the whole time I’m getting everything ready. I know you’re just excited and that you love talking with me, but when you do this in the form of questions, it’s very tiring and kind of annoying.”

Animata: It’s enough for me to do all I want to do, let alone to have to describe every bit of it to that curious little kid!”

Step 2:

Discuss the effects of the habit.

Describing the effects of the habit would sound like this:

“When you ask a lot of questions, it’s tempting for me to tune you out. I don’t want to ignore your questions because I always want you to give you answers to your important questions.

But some of your questions are just too much and aren’t really necessary for you to ask, so I sometimes just feel like ignoring you, and that makes me feel sad. I don’t ever want to ignore you! Also, if you do this with friends or other people not in our family, they may think you’re annoying, and that you’re trying to get attention.

I want you to get attention for all of the wonderful things you do, not because you’re asking a lot of unnecessary questions.”

Step 3:

Discuss the replacement behavior and its benefits.

When you ask a child to stop a habit, it’s often helpful to give them a replacement habit or behavior that will work better for them. If desired, you can brainstorm these with your child. If that’s not necessary or appropriate, simply tell your child what the replacement behavior will be.

Describe for them, in detail, how it will look and feel for them to do the replacement behavior instead. Describe what it will be like for everyone else, too.

This is what it would sound like for Mackenzie’s example:

“When you feel like you want to ask a question, I want you to press your pause button. After you press it, I want you to ask yourself, “How can I help myself right now?”

Helping yourself might be looking around to answer your own question. Or, it may mean you will take a cleansing breath and be ok with not knowing the answer just yet.

Or, you could write your question down in a question book instead of saying it out loud.

Or, it may mean saying an affirmation. A good affirmation for this behavior would be for you to gently say to yourself, “The unknown holds wonderful surprises.” or you could say, “I am present.”

“The unknown holds wonderful surprises.”

“I am present.”

When you are present and ready for surprises, you will experience more fun. I want to see you happy and engaging in what we are doing, instead of feeling like you have to be constantly talking or asking questions about what we are doing. I also want you to ask me questions about things you are genuinely curious about, things we can really talk about. Do any of these ideas seem like they might help you?”

Let your child share which strategies they will try, if you presented more than one. They can also share any ideas they might have, and you can chat those through. Agree on which replacement behaviors will be working toward.

Wrap up this step by describing the benefits of their replacement behavior. Remember to focus on the benefits they will experience, although it’s ok to mention the benefits for others, too.

It would sound like this:

“When you stop asking unnecessary questions, everyone around you is going to pay even more attention when you do talk or ask a question. No one will be annoyed with you because of the questions, and you’ll feel great knowing people have a lot of fun when you are around.

You’ll also feel great for overcoming this habit that hasn’t been working so well for you. And you’ll know that you can send away any other bad habits that creep up, your whole life through. This is such an important skill for all of us!”

Animata: I’m so glad we are doing this. The stork said he couldn’t take her back!”

Ok, so now that your child has a clear understanding of why their behavior has not been working for them and others, it’s time to implement the behavior-specific modification strategy. Get the materials you need, whether an index card and puncher, or whatever is needed for your chosen strategy.

Step 4:

Discuss exactly how the behavior-specific modification strategy will work.

Now, you get to describe the strategy to your child so they know exactly how it will work. Let them ask clarifying questions.

So, in Mackenzie’s example, this is when I would have said you will have an index card and a hole puncher. Every day you’ll be able to ask 20 questions. Every time you ask a question, you will need to punch one hole into the card. Once you’ve used up your 20 questions, you won’t be able to ask more questions until the next day.

Step 5: Discuss the rewards and consequences for possible outcomes.

This means to discuss both the positive and the negative consequences. Brainstorm with your child to come up with the final reward for eliminating or modifying the habit.

If there is something your child has been wanting, this might be the time to make that a possibility. I know one family who got a new puppy for their son when he stopped biting his nails. The habit was so strong and they were so highly motivated to help him stop it, that they went big on the reward.

But rewards don’t always need to be that big! You want to use the least possible reward that will motivate your child.

Don’t overdo it. Consider, how difficult it will be for my child to overcome the habit? and how important it that they overcome it? and go from there.

How difficult it will be for my child to overcome the habit?

How important it is that they overcome it?

Here’s a list of some possible rewards:

Take your child to sushi or another favorite dinner out
Have friends over for a movie night with pizza, candy, and popcorn
Let your child stay up permanently later, such as 30 minutes, or even an hour later, if appropriate for your child’s age
Get them a phone, or a new phone
Allow another privilege your child wants, such as being able to do something you have previously said no to
Give your child a gift certificate to a particular store
Take them to get mani-pedis with a group friends
Spend a day at the beach, lake, or another outdoor place your child likes
Go to an amusement park of their choosing
Or any other reward that will engage your child.

After you determine the reward, let your child know exactly what will need to be done, and for what length of time, in order to receive the reward. You don’t want to buy your child a new phone or a new puppy for eradicating a difficult behavior, only to have them start up with the behavior again a week later.

Animata: Um, you’re so going to have to give that back!

While research shows it typically only takes about 10 days to break a habit, it can take a few months to really have new behaviors set in and stick.

Depending on the age of your child, and the behavior they are eliminating, you might want to wait a month or two after they stop the behavior before they receive their reward. If it’s a lesser or newer habit they are breaking, two weeks may be sufficient.

At this point, you will also want to describe the consequences if the child does not engage in modifying the habit. Maybe they are biting their nails and they do not want to stop doing that–they don’t see it as a big deal.

You can let them know that it is not a choice for them to not engage and that if they don’t engage, they will not only not get a reward, but they will suffer negative consequences, such as loss of some of their belongings or activities that they enjoy.

In this example, you can explain, “Biting your nails is a habit that isn’t going to work well for you, health-wise, or socially. Watching someone chew on their fingers is not fun for those who are around the person. And, it’s something you’ll do unconsciously when you’re stressed. It’s a behavior most people don’t want in a spouse, friend, or employee.

It’s also super dirty because your hands collect more germs than any other part of your body throughout the day, and you’re putting that right into your mouth, without even thinking about it. We see your nail-biting as the same as if you decided to stop brushing your teeth. It’s unacceptable.”

Ok, so those are the steps of the Pre-Meeting, and now you’re ready to implement the strategy with your child.

In the next video, I’ll present four more strategies and also show how to do Part B, which is to follow-up with your child once they have released the undesirable behavior.

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