Behavioral Intervention Techniques for Children with Attentional or Behavioral Difficulties by Lindsay Whitman, Ph.D., Pediatric Neuropsychologist

By September 3, 2013Blog

Effective teachers and parents use behavioral intervention techniques to help students control their attention and behavior. One of the most useful interventional techniques is verbal reinforcement of desirable behaviors.

The most common form of verbal reinforcement is praise. Praise is a type of positive reinforcement that should be given not only when a child completes or is engaging in an appropriate behavior, but also when they are exhibiting clear effort toward a desirable behavior. The key is to is to look for a behavior to highlight well before the child gets “off task”. This will provide the incentive for the child to continue to engage in the appropriate behavior, rather than getting distracted or enticed by a less desirable pattern.

Although negative consequences may temporarily change behavior patterns, they may actually increase the frequency and intensity of inappropriate behavior by reinforcing misbehavior with attention. In addition, punishment on its own only teaches children what not to do. Positive reinforcement is intended to teach children the specific behaviors needed to succeed. Theoretically, positive reinforcement produces the changes in the attitudes and thoughts that will shape a student’s behavioral and learning trajectory into a successful one.

Here are some tips on the use of praise in the classroom and at home.

  • Clearly identify the behavior. Your comments should include exactly what part(s) of the child’s behavior is/was desirable. Look for concrete aspects of what the child was/is doing. For example, instead of praising a child for “not disrupting his neighbor”, a child should be praised for “sitting quietly at his desk and working in his workbook”.
  • Be sure to vary the types of statements given as praise. When students hear the same praise statement repeated over and over, it will likely lose salience become less and less effective.
  • Give praise at the exact time the behavior occurred. The closer in time the praise and the behavior can be, the better.
  • Be consistent. Teachers and parents should work together as much as possible. Consistency among teachers with respect to which (specific) behaviors are being praised is very important. If different beahviors are being reinforced, it is possible the student will become confused or frustrated. Daily home-school report cards or spiral notebooks passed back and forth between the parent and teacher can be helpful in this regard.