Successful Behavior Modification Techniques for Young Children in Schools

The term, “behavior modification,” is based on the principle that rewarding appropriate behavior is more effective than punishing inappropriate behavior. Since children at the early childhood phase of life are not cognitively developed enough to understand the concept of consequence, and due to their short attention span, it’s better to reward good behavior as immediately as you can. This helps to reinforce that good behavior in becoming intrinsically motivated.

Reasoning with a preschool age child is fine, and behavior as it relates to consequences should be discussed, but the child is more likely to learn what pleases the parents and teacher if the adults use these techniques.

Behavior Modification Techniques:

1. Successive Approximation Principle:

This technique is an effective way to modify behavior for any living being. It’s commonly used to train animals, but it works with human beings too. This technique is used to teach the child a new behavior or concept he or she has not learned, by rewarding successive steps to the desired behavior.

We can use this technique in the classroom just by noticing a behavior that’s close to what we want to see and rewarding the child for, “sitting quietly in his seat.” Don’t wait until the fidgety child begins to squirm to scold him. Instead, look for a close approximation of good behavior and praise it. Most children seek to please and feel good when the parent or teacher notices.

Even intellectually underdeveloped children can learn appropriate behavior by consistent rewarding for anything that is close to what you want them to learn. Over time, the reward is withdrawn until an even closer behavior to the one you want is earned. It must be immediate so that the young child can begin to comprehend that this is what they need to do to please you, and consequently feel good.

The rewards can be just about anything, depending on the age and cognitive ability of the child. You can use food rewards, but sparingly. A raisin or piece of cereal is a good token for the behavior you are trying to instill, but with most children, a pat on the head and just the few words, “good job,” are enough. As the child gets older and is more motivated, any token will do.

2. Continuous Reinforcement Principle:

When teaching new behaviors or tasks that a child has not learned, use an immediate reward after each correct performance. This technique is much the same as the first, but this time you’ll be expecting the behavior to be exact instead of something close to that. After spending time directing the child toward good behavior, the first technique progress to this, where you’ll not reward until the child complies or behaves appropriately.

Let’s say that Sally won’t stay in her seat. At first, you rewarded her for sitting down only for a minute, but now it’s time for her to learn to sit still for the entire lesson. She’s resisting your reminders to sit down in her seat after a few minutes, so after a minute of sitting still, drop a token or some reward on her desk. You might even just walk by and say, “I like the way you are sitting in your seat.” Do the same thing as the minutes go by to reinforce her ability to comply, until she is finally able to feel rewarded by the way she feels inside.

3. Negative Reinforcement Principle:

Some children need more work than others to acquire good behavior, but this technique of behavior modification can be used for every child at times of resistance and normal childhood rebellion. By giving the child choices, you are teaching him to make good decisions by offering a choice of consequences for good and bad behavior. “I hope you’ll choose to sit quietly during story time so that you can have a snack with the rest of the class, but If you choose to get out of your seat during story time, you’ll need to stand in time out while the rest of us have a snack. ” This is just an example, but by providing a negative consequence for inappropriate behavior is an effective behavior modification technique when it’s used wisely. Make sure that you follow through with the consequence of the child’s decision. If you don’t, it will take a very long time for the child to re-learn.

Providing stickers or color cards at the end of a school day is a good way to use this technique. When a child doesn’t get his, “happy face,” for the day, he’ll be more likely to try harder the next day.

4. Modeling Principle:

When the teacher notes a few of her students misbehaving, a good behavior modification technique is to verbally praise the children who are behaving appropriately. This sends a message to the ones you’re trying to teach. “The teacher says nice things about the children who behave.” The misbehaving child will automatically look at the children who are being praised to see what they are doing. This technique works very well with younger children who adore the attention of adults. It’s more effective than scolding the child, because it doesn’t draw attention to the misbehavior.

5. Cue Principle:

To teach a child to remember a learned behavior, give a cue for the correct performance or behavior, just before the action is expected. This helps to avoid misbehavior and especially with the child who is more likely to misbehave without reminding. A teacher can use this technique when lining the children up to go to the lunch room, by saying, “Hands to your side,” or, “use inside voices.”

Preschool children need reminding all the time, so find those cue words to say to remind the child who often misbehaves. It saves time and avoids the negative side of discipline. As you use cue words and phrases, make sure to praise those who are following the rules. The rest will fall in line with a little patient reminding.

Decreasing Reinforcement:

This technique is also called, “extinguishing.” You want the child to behave appropriately, even without a reward, so once the new behavior has been learned through its rewards, it’s time to slowly decrease the rewards to encourage greater expectations. Soon, the child behaves a certain way just because it’s now a part of who he is. You’ve taught him that good behavior makes him feel good on the inside too, which is exactly what behavior modification is supposed to do.