8 rules for extinguishing bad behavior – Part 4 in our changing others series.
By David Joel Miller.
Parenting coaches tell parents to ignore bad behavior. They call this process “extinguishing.” They warn that paying too much attention to the child who is misbehaving only rewards them and increases the targeted behavior. Professional’s tell parents to use extinguishing a lot. Many parents say it doesn’t work. Why?
Parents hate it when their child throws a tantrum. They try lots of things to make the kid stop. Fresh from the therapist, they decide to take the professionals advice. The kid starts to scream. They ignore him. Eventually, he has to stop right? Four hours later the parents give up on the extinguishing method as their child is still screaming.
Rule 1: Bad behaviors are likely to get worse before they get better.
Most parents give up before the bad behavior ends. Kids can be a whole lot more stubborn than most parents. Isn’t it the reasonable person in a relationship that ends up giving in to the unreasonable one?
Rule 2: Kids will pick a place for their bad behaviors were you don’t want to make a scene.
If you chose to try to extinguish a bad behavior, in the early stages avoid places where you won’t be able to stick to your guns. Taking the kid with you to the store is sure to result in a tantrum in the early stages. It is easier to extinguish bad behavior at home than at the in-laws.
Rule 3: While extinguishing a bad behavior, make sure to reward any behavior change.
Just make sure not to fall into the bribe trap by offering positive rewards for stopping the bad behavior. We all have urges to do something positive to distract the misbehaving person, but if the distraction comes to close to the bad behavior it looks like the bad behavior got the reward. Wait till the child stops the tantrum for twenty seconds or so and then reward them for stopping.
Rule 4: Be sure you are not extinguishing a desired behavior.
A child crying can be annoying at times but they should cry when in pain. Make sure you check that there is no legitimate reason for the “bad” behavior before you decide to try ignoring it and play your “extinguishing” game.
Rule 5: If you want to stop something you need to always stop it.
Of and on actions are called intermittent reinforcement. But out food once for a wild animal and it will come back for a while until it is convinced that there will be no food. But if you feed it off and on it will keep coming back almost forever. People are like that also. If you want to extinguish a bad behavior, don’t give in, not even once. If you are not consistent the person you are trying to change won’t know which answer to expect and they will keep trying forever.
Rule 6: This is not a one-person job.
If one person in the home tries to extinguish a behavior but the rest of the family gives in it will not work. Make sure all the people who might reinforce the bad behavior are on board with the effort to extinguish the bad behavior.
Rule 7: There will be ups and downs.
Bad behavior that has been extinguished may return after a time. Why shouldn’t a child, or adult for that matter, try something again that had worked in the past. The person who has lost the advantage of their previously useful bad behavior is also likely to get frustrated. Sometimes they even get aggressive or violent. A tantruming child who is ignored long enough, may up the ante and come over and hit you. Consider how you will respond if the aggression increases.
Rule 8: Good behavior extinguishes also.
Good behavior that is not reinforced will start to fade quickly. While trying to get someone to cut down on or stop bad behaviors, you need to keep praising good actions or the good things stop also.
Our series on changing other people’s behavior focused here mostly on children is about to change direction. We talked about getting more good behavior and we have talked about how to reduce or stop an undesirable or bad behavior. But what do you do when the behavior you want from someone is a whole new action. How do you get them to start doing something they have never done before?
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
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