A child’s environment influences the way they behave. Often, problematic and unhealthy behaviors are unintentionally rewarded. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps parents gain the skills and knowledge to help redirect unwanted behaviors. Behavior therapies can be applied to a wide range of psychological symptoms among adolescents and children.
Although behavioral therapies can vary substantially from disorder to disorder, a common thread is that behavioral therapists encourage children and adolescents to try new behaviors, reward desired behaviors, and to allow unwanted behaviors to “extinguish” (that is, ignore unwanted behaviors).
In behavior therapy, parents and children learn to promote desirable behaviors and reduce unwanted behaviors.
One common trap that families fall into is unintentionally rewarding the wrong behavior. For example, take the teen who has not finished his homework, but really wants to take the car. Despite initial objections, the teen persists, and becomes angry, irritable, and disobedient towards his parents. Following a tantrum, the parents decide they cannot take the hassle anymore and allow him to borrow the car. In this way, the parents unintentionally reward, or reinforce, the teen’s oppositional behavior. The best way to handle these situations is to planfully ignore acting out behavior and to reinforce wanted behavior (homework attempts) as much as possible. Behavioral therapists seek to understand such links between behaviors, rewards, and learning, and to help youth and parents shape their own behaviors to meet individual and family goals.
Behavioral Parent Training
Behavioral parent training was developed to teach parents how to reinforce desirable behaviors in their children, discourage unwanted behaviors, and improve parent-child interactions. In this form of therapy, the parents play a significant role in treating their children’s behavior problems. During the therapy sessions, parents learn how to carefully observe their children’s behaviors at home and are taught skills to reward their children’s positive behaviors by using praise, positive attention, and rewards. They are also taught to use rule-setting, time-out, and ignoring to discourage bad behaviors.
Blog Post By:
Sarah Irvine, LCSW
Oak Tree Developmental Center
Steven W. Evans, Julie Sarno Owens, & Nora Bunford (2013). Evidence-Based Psychosocial Treatments for Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Vol. 43 Issue 4, 527-551. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2013.850700
Charmaine K. Higa-McMillan, Sarah E. Francis, Leslie Rith-Najarian, & Bruce F. Chopita (2016). Evidence Base Update: 50 Years of Research on Treatment for Child and Adolescent Anxiety, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 45:2, 91-113, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2015.1046177