Leave your child no alternative for getting his or her needs met besides the new, appropriate method you've taught. Ignore the problem behavior whenever it occurs, but provide a prompt for the new communication. For example, if your child screams whenever she wants to avoid a situation, prompt her to use an appropriate phrase, but do not permit her to leave the situation while she is screaming.
Ivana's 11-year-old daughter, Michaela, had a habit of coming up to her siblings and classmates and touching them to get their attention. When she was younger, this type of behavior seemed appropriate, even affectionate. But now that she was approaching adolescence her mother was concerned that it would irritate peers and could lead to erroneous signals being sent to young boys. Ivana explained to Michaela why this behavior was not appropriate and taught her instead to say, "Hi, how's it going?" Ivana modeled and role-played this skill with Michaela, and she also talked to her other children about the strategy. She asked them to ignore Michaela if she touched them but to pay attention to her right away if she asked for their attention as she had been taught. This ensured simultaneously that Michaela's inappropriate skills would not be successful and that her new strategies would be rewarding.
The steps we've described are straightforward, but it is no easy task to switch your child from challenging behaviors to more appropriate means of attaining the same goals. It will be crucial for you to practice with your child and to ensure that appropriate strategies will be more reinforcing than those based on difficult or inappropriate behaviors. Some parents have lamented that when they try to alter these challenging behaviors, they seem to increase in frequency. Although it may seem counterintuitive, this is actually a good sign. When children find that their old, tried-and-true strategy isn't working, they often take a "twice as much, twice as hard" approach in a last-ditch effort to achieve their goals. This indicates that your child has realized the contingencies have changed. As long as you don't yield to this increased frequency and intensity of the problem behavior, change is probably imminent.
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