Reducing and Eliminating Undesirable Behavior

When undesirable behavior occurs, discipline strategies to reduce or eliminate such behavior are needed.11 Undesirable behavior includes behavior that places the child or others in danger, is noncompliant with the reasonable expectations and demands of the parents or other appropriate adults (eg, teachers), and interferes with positive social interactions and self-discipline. Some of these behaviors require an immediate response because of danger or risk to the child. Other undesirable behaviors require a consistent consequence to prevent generalization of the behavior to other situations. Some problems, particularly those that involve intense emotional exchanges, may be handled best by taking a break from the situation and discussing it later when emotions have subsided, developing alternative ways to handle the situation (removing attention), or, in many cases, avoiding these situations altogether.

Extinction including time-out and removal of privileges, and punishment are two common discipline approaches that have been associated with reducing undesired behavior. These different strategies, sometimes both confusingly called punishment, are effective if applied appropriately to specific behaviors. Although they both reduce undesired behavior, they work in very different ways and have very different short- and long-term effects. For both strategies, the following factors may increase the effectiveness:
clarity on the part of the parent and child about what the problem behavior is and what consequence the child can expect when this behavior occurs;
providing a strong and immediate initial consequence when the targeted behavior first occurs;
consistently providing an appropriate consequence each time a targeted problematic behavior occurs;
delivering instruction and correction calmly and with empathy; and
providing a reason for a consequence for a specific behavior, which helps children beyond toddler age to learn the appropriate behavior12 and improves their overall compliance with requests from adults.13

Occasionally, the consequence for an undesired behavior is immediate, without parental involvement (eg, breaking one’s own toy), and may be effective in teaching children to change their behavior. When this consequence is combined with parental reprimand, there is an increase in the likelihood that the child’s behavior will be affected for future similar situations.

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