A Contextual Approach to the Assessment of Social Skills

Managing Problem Behaviors
in Young Children
Emily Warnes, Ph.D.
Munroe-Meyer Institute
Crete Area Medical Center
What is Behavior
• Does NOT mean punishment
• In fact, if behavior is managed well, very
little punishment should be needed
• Behavior Management IS an understanding
of learning principles that can help you
teach children to act in socially
appropriate ways
Two Important Learning
What are Reinforcement
and Punishment?
• Reinforcement is anything that occurs
after a behavior that makes that behavior
MORE likely to happen again in the future
• Punishment is anything that occurs after a
behavior that makes that behavior LESS
likely to happen again in the future
Developmental Stages
Developmental Stages
One –Year Olds
– Identify and react to
emotions of others
– Play games like pattycake
and peekaboo
– Sit up without support
– Say mama and dada;
imitate sounds
– Recognize their own name
– Wave bye-bye
– Crawl, may walk
– Have no sense of caution
– Pull themselves up to a
standing position
– Feed themselves small
pieces of food
– Show interest in other
Two-Year Olds
Assert independence
Demand attention
Favorite word is “no”
Prone to tantrums, hitting,
and biting
Easily distracted
Self-centered and possessive
Still do not really play with
other children for long
Need help dressing &
May develop fears
Walk well, always on the go
Can jump and throw a ball
Appetite may fall off sharply
Learn many new words
Developmental Stages
Three –Year Olds
Still say “no” a lot
Favorite word is “why?”
Attention span is increasing
Begin to play with other
Active imagination
Can repeat short nursery
Speak in short sentences
Learning to share
Imitate others
Want to please parents
Very active
Small motor skills begin to
Spills at mealtime
Need help dressing
Can wash hands and face
Four-Year Olds
Quite verbal
Ask constant questions
Attention span is longer
Very imaginative
Recognize colors
Can match sizes, shapes,
colors, play well with other
Boss and criticize others
Enjoy dramatic play
Learning right from left
Love physical activity
Throw balls overhead
Balance is good
Can dress alone
Able to cut with scissors
Begin to form letters
(sometimes backwards)
Developmental Stages
Five –Year Olds
Can speak clearly
Memory improving
Attention span longer
Generally cooperative
Want to help
Count well
Can learn own phone # and
Play cooperatively with
Want to fit in
Very curious
Gaining in self-control
Sensitive to others
Can print own name
Can retell stories
Have good balance &
Is this Normal?
Children may also:
Spit at people
Color or paint on walls, floor, etc.
Track in sand and mud
Break and damage things (poor water on the phone;
hammer the wall)
Spill things
Say embarrassing things in public
Spread their bowel movements all over floor and walls
Put things in the toilet and clog it up
Run out the door and into the street naked
Demand a large helping of food and then only eat a few
Show less interest in a gift than the box it came in
In General…..
• Children ages 8 and younger are not at the
preabstract level of cognitive development
• Do not understand time, distance, amount,
• Language is not the best way to manage
young children because it is abstract
How Do Children Learn
• Experience
– Practice more, explain less
• Repetition
– Practice often
• Contrast
– Between reactions to appropriate and
inappropriate behaviors
• Praise
– Praise more, criticize less
• Children do not act out because they are
• Children do what they have learned will
earn reinforcement and avoid punishment
• Children behave in ways that are expected
based on their developmental level
• Time-In is the attention you give
children when they are behaving
• Time-In alone can increase
compliance with adult requests
• Time-Out will not work unless there
is sufficient Time-In
How do I do Time-In?
Maintain a positive to negative ratio of 4:1
Physical Contact
– Close proximity
– Give frequent pats or
Catch ‘em being good
Eye Contact
Fun Ways to Motivate
Mystery Motivators
Connect the Dots
Grab bags
Common Concerns with
Positive Reinforcement
• Children shouldn’t have to be rewarded for
things that are requirements of everyday
• Children who are given rewards will expect
to be rewarded for everything
• Good behavior will go away as soon as the
rewards stop coming
– If bad behavior is minor
– If the child is looking for attention
from an adult
Time-Out Procedure
• Warn – Provide 1 warning (“Stop/do or you will go to time-out”)
• Escort – Minimize talk (“Time- out for biting. Stay here until I
tell you to get out”)
• Ignore – Each interaction diminishes effectiveness of time-out
• Brief – 30 sec to 1 min for every year of age, no more than 10
• Release – Limit talk (“You’re calm, you can get up”)
• Practice – Set up practice for correct behavior when possible
• Praise – Build contrast
• Most Common Reasons Time-Out
doesn’t work
– Not enough time-in and praise for
appropriate behavior
– Too much interaction during time-out
Other Tips for Managing
Don’t personalize a child’s behavior
Stay calm
Think prevention – Anticipate and plan!
Don’t give an instruction if you do not plan
to follow through if the child is
• Don’t expect to be perfect
• Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you
need it