Rebecca Resnik, PsyD  
Bethesda, MD

Specialties: ADHD, dyslexia, developmental delays

Interests: Developmental Disabilities
Rebecca Resnik & Associates PC
Bethesda Office
Bethesda, MD
All Journal Entries Journals

Behavior Plans

Jun 17, 2008 - 9 comments

Behavior Management


child behavior


Behavior Plan



Some Thoughts about Behavior Plans

'Behavior plans' are one of the most popular approaches for trying to systematically change a child’s behaviors. Decades of research has shown that even an earthworm can respond to a simple behavior plan. So why do so many frustrated parents come to us at Mindworks (our private clinic) with the classic lament “We tried that, it didn’t work.”? As with most things in life, it’s because there is almost never a simple answer to a complex problem. Lets face it, if we could all fix out children's behavior by watching Dr. Phil or just buying the right book, lots of psychologists would be out of a job. In fact, many of us have wait lists for therapy appointments.

Helping our children develop self-control is one of the most challenging tasks we parents face. One reason behavior plans can fail to make lasting changes is that people understand them as ways of making a child comply. Getting people to comply for a little while is pretty easy. I can get you to do anything I want if I threaten you with a nasty enough consequence. However, once I’m not around or I can’t make good on my threat, you’re going to go right back to doing what you want. Believe it or not, longer or harsher punishments do not have a greater impact on eliminating unwanted behavior. There are decades of research showing that punishments have very limited effectiveness. While we absolutely need our children to comply with our rules, the true goal of a behavior plan is to teach the child to do something new.

When we take a teaching approach to modifying behavior, we come at the problem differently. Now our goal is to help the child choose a better set of behaviors than whatever behaviors are causing problems. As the psychologist Reginald Lourie noted, we must not eliminate a behavior without giving the child an attractive option for how to handle a stressful situation. If we just focus on stamping out a particular behavior, the child will find another way of dealing with his anger, frustration, boredom or shame (e.g. the child goes from hitting to biting). Remember, the goal is not just short-term compliance, its long-term development of self-control. Helping our children learn self-control can make all the difference for their happiness in life, not to mention making them better human beings.

Behavior plans have many common pitfalls. A major problem is lack of consistency, or using the plan sporadically or for too short a time period. This inconsistency creates a situation like a person gambling at a slot machine. Your child is the gambler, hoping for a pay-off (i.e. you giving in!). Guess who is the slot machine? When the ‘gambler’ never knows when the machine will ‘pay-off’ he is very, very, motivated to keep pushing buttons until it does. Kids are always looking for how to ‘beat the system’ and many parents give up as soon as the child finds a weakness in the plan that he can exploit. Every plan has weaknesses your child will find. That’s a delicate phase in implementation.

A psychologist can help you get through it without having the whole plan go down in flames. It is vital to get help from an expert to make sure your plan is developmentally appropriate! Lots of great plans fail because they are better suited to older children or for those without disabilities. The child must have the maximum chance for success, because there’s nothing harder than trying to implement a second, third, or fourth plan after failed attempts. A psychologist can also help you avoid pitfalls like inappropriate consequences. Too many well meaning people enact consequences that make the situation worse for everybody. For example, some people take recess from a child who desperately needs to let off steam, cancel birthday parties, or put a withdrawn, avoidant child into time-out.

Keep in mind that changing troublesome behavior does not happen overnight, and can be incredibly discouraging to find yourself constantly battling with your own child. The good news is that when behavior plans are proactive, fair and a good match for the child, they can and do help children change!  Whether its called Parent coaching, Parent Guidance or Parent Management Training, learning new skills for setting limits is an important part of psychotherapy for children. But don't stop there--a really good psychotherapist will complement behavior modification skills in with improving your communication skills, learning to be proactive instead of reactive, and learning to understand your child's emotional life as he develops. It is well worth the time and expense to improve your relationship with your child. Learning these skills is a gift you will give them that they will pass on to the next generation.

-Dr. Rebecca Resnik

Post a Comment
Avatar universal
by lynn3212, Jun 17, 2008
Hello,  I just read your post and think that I need to seek some form of mental counseling.  Ever since my freshman year of college(i lost my virginity and got HPV) I have had a deadly fear of herpes where at least twice a year I go through periods where I can't function.  I completely break down.  Please reccomend someone in the Richmond area.  I am a 27 year old college educated (biology) female.  I am ready to solve this problem.  I haven't even had so much as a yeast infection since 2000.  Please suggest some in the richmond va area.  thanks


306245 tn?1244384967
by momtofourboys, Jun 18, 2008
How do you get that child to talk to you in the first place.   I have a 16 year old son and I try many many times to have him talk to me about school, his bio. dad (who doesn't have anyhting to do with him. his work schedule his friends and all he tells me it is none of my business. I brought him several times for professional help and all he says is you can't make me talk and it is none of your business what is going on in my so so my mom is just wasting her $$. (I wished I had the $$ and time to go see someone)
he does talk to teacher and guidence counsler at school who he has become very comfortable in talking his issues out with them. I guess I am happy he is doing that and not keeping things bottled up. he did tell me I could talk to them if I want to know things, I am mixed on this due to the fact that I don't want him to loose trust in these 2 people and clam up. I want to knw what is going on. (well I know most of it I am not stupid, but it is the issue with kids at school and his self esteem.
I don't know how to help him, especially with his baby brothers health issues.
He is not violent or anything like that no drugs or alcohol (he has to get tested once a month for his police cadet program that he is involved in
any ideas on how I can get him to talk to ME (MOM)
thank you

521840 tn?1348840771
by Rebecca Resnik, PsyDBlank, Jun 18, 2008
Dear Lynn--sorry I do not know of anyone who works with adults in Richmond. I would recommend you seek the care of a psychologist and/or psychiatrist as soon as possible. Your primary care physician can refer you to someone who will fit your needs.

Dear Michelle, can you post your question in the parenting forum so I can address it? Thanks


Avatar universal
by BionicBabe, Jun 18, 2008
Any ideas for high school sp. ed. teachers on how to implement behavior plans for students' whose general education teachers barely acknowledge the IEP?

521840 tn?1348840771
by Rebecca Resnik, PsyDBlank, Jun 18, 2008
Hi BionicBabe,
   if I had the answer to that question, I might have stayed in teaching! I had the same problem with my fellow high school teachers because they were all so overwhelmed with classes of 30+ kids from an urban setting. Some of my best success came when the kid's athletic coaches got involved in implementing and collecting point sheets, the kids payed a lot more attention to consequences that involved getting benched or kicked off the team. I never had the freedom to do this, but could your dept do mini in-services at dept staff meetings? That way you know that at least each dept chair has the information from you and will know what his/her teachers are supposed to be doing to stay in compliance.

Good luck

Avatar universal
by Kimbra, Jun 21, 2008

I'm not a doctor but have personal experience with HPV.  I too contracted HPV in college at age 20.  I'm now 39 and have not had an "outbreak" since originally contracting it.  It has been 8 years for you without a reocurrence.  Your body may have built up a resistance and although you will always carry the virus you very well may not have an outbreak ever again.  That being said, I still carry the emotional scars of going through that experience and the shame I felt.  I wish I had received counseling to deal with the emotions that I was feeling at the time.  I would suggest talking to a professional counselor/social worker so that they can help you deal with the realities of the situation (you may not ever have an outbreak again) and the emotional aspect of such an experience (this doesn't mean that you are "tainted" or a "bad" person.)


416069 tn?1214605765
by autismfamily, Jun 27, 2008
Good article.  My 12 year old is nonverbal and he has had behavior support plans in place at school and it changes every six months, which make sense since he is entering puberty and now Middle School.  I have a book that I really liked called -  A Treasure Chest of Behavioral Strategies for Individuals with Autism  and another one I am going through now entitled, The incredible 5-point scale.  I think it is too advanced for my son to comprehend.  Although might be suitable for my HFA son who is 13.

Bonnie Sayers

393685 tn?1425812522
by stella5349, Jun 28, 2008
Thanks for the article. I totally agree with the behavior plan approach -But again there is a bigger picture.

Let's use the example of a child acting out because of wanting attention. How ever the child is acting out is really not the issue - the question is why is this child wanting attention?

A behavior plan can give the child the tools to understand how to control his behavior - but most plans do not deal with the emotional side of why this behavior is present.

In today's society parents are horribly stressed with divorce - money - job loss - financial bankruptcy- and just trying to keep their heads above water. The average family now who had a moderate income can longer provide for their family as they did 5 years ago. They are stressed to the max.

Many parents are taking second jobs to support the family and forced to alter their parenting to live. Children are shuffled from day care facilities to baby sitters to other family members to allow the parents the ability to provide the incomes to support the family. How many daycare facilities have moved to 2nd shifts lately to accommodate the parent’s needs to go to work? This evening time is the most valuable time a child needs to bond with their families.

The whole routine is disrupted for these children and they are forced to constantly accept change. A school can utilize a behavior plan for a student and give them the reward and consequence approach in the educational setting, but when the child goes home there is no consistency for them to maintain these skills. There are too many individuals involved in teaching these kids proper ways to behave and the parents are not part of this routine.

They are confused. When a parent becomes exhausted with the altered decisions they were forced to make - and are stressed, they can not manage the change their child is going though. Parents most of the time seek medical help and in many circumstances, medication is prescribed to mind alter this child to behave accordingly.

The solution for most of these situations should be a combination of family, financial and individual therapy. A TEAM of professionals should be developed to work with the families to determine how the families need to come together and give this child the only real thing he/she desires – attention. Then if physiological therapy is decided for the child a plan should be implemented after the family has come together as a whole and attempts to make changes to de-stress in the home.

It is disheartening to me to be giving a child a medication when the child expresses he/she wants her mommy because…… (for whatever reason)  This child is crying out for the family member that he/she is trying to be with and many times the parent is unable to help out when a situation arises.  It saddens me that our society has moved to this level.

Avatar universal
by al259, Jul 01, 2008
im  only 14 and i lost my virgniy and i am so freaked out i might have an std trying to find out how to go to a planned parenthood with out my parents noticing any suggestions for the rb san diego area?

Post a Comment