Phase 4:

Behavior Change

Overview of Phase 4

This final phase addresses 3 topics:

Promoting Positive Behavior
A trophy

Use rewards and praise to encourage positive behavior from children.

Jump to "Promoting Positive Behavior"
Effective Ignoring
A caregiver with headphones on

Help make sure that your child will follow instructions, and learn what kinds of behavior should be ignored.

Jump to "Effective Ignoring"
Managing Misbehavior
A child holding a sign that says 'time out'

Discourage problem behaviors without needing to use hardh punishment, and teach your child how to better manage their behavior.

Jump to "Managing Misbehavior"

Promoting Positive Behavior

Parents sometimes prefer to focus more on giving their children punishments when they want to change their child's bad behavior than doing or teaching them something else. However, there are other ways you can help your child solve problems or improve behavior. Sometimes in caring for children with behavioral problems, it can be easy to forget their good behavior, regardless of how often it occurs. It's important to remember that promoting your child's good behavior can be just as effective as punishing bad behavior.

One way to promote good behavior is by acknowledging good behavior with praise and rewards. We will talk about praise first, and then talk about the different types of rewards that can be used.

Praise is Key

Praising your child is important. You should use praise whenever your child shows desirable behavior and while distributing rewards/reinforcers.

Praise is a way of giving your child verbal recognition for their good behavior. Praising is an important part of shaping your child's behavior so they know when they did something GREAT and will want to do it again! Always use praise!

Pyramid with Punish as the small top, ignore as the medium middle, and praise as the large base

What to Remember When Using Praise

"Catch" your child being good and showing desired behavior

Make it clear to your child that you saw him or her behaving well.

Be careful of backhanded compliments

Example: "You worked really hard for that A in math! Too bad you can't do that in Reading."

Be enthusiastic and use different praise statements

Otherwise, kids will begin to tune you out.

Always use praise more than negative comments. This is because your language can have a powerful effect on your child. Here are some important key facts about praise for you to keep in mind:

  • Praise tells your child that you care about him/her in general.
  • Praise tells your child what you want to encourage (what behaviors you like).
  • Using positive language increases children's general motivation to be nice/positive.
  • Using positive language increases the behavior you praise.

Sample Praise Statements

Review Handout: Sample Praise Statements

The following are some praise statements that you can use with your child:

You did that well!



You outdid yourself!

You did it!


Well done!

I'm proud of you!

That's great!

Good job!

Keep it up!

That's nice!

First class job!

I knew you could do it!


You're really learning!



Nice work!



What would make it easier for you to do this more often? Is it hard to praise your child when he or she does what he or she is expected to do?

More Sample Praise Statements

The following are some more specific praise statements that you can use with your child.

You finished your work all by yourself!

You played so nicely with your sister! Thank you for sharing your toys.

You worked hard cleaning. Your room looks fantastic!

You did a lot of homework today!

Your dancing is really coming along!

You did a great job cleaning the dishes!

I love the way you have been practicing so faithfully!

You're really learning how to speak Spanish well!

You were a great helper to your grandmother!

Thank you for showing your sister how to ride a bike!

I really appreciated your help in the kitchen!

Complete Handout: Positive Opposites

The Effective Use of Rewards

Review Handout: Principles for Rewarding Review Handout: Types of Rewards

While praise is a great and simple motivator for children, most of the children we work with also like to earn or receive things as they start to behave properly. It helps them understand that their improvements are positive and encouraged. Most of the time, rewards are used to help children practice a new behavior.

There are many benefits of using special rewards to promote your child's good behavior. Here are some examples:

  • Rewards motivate children. Giving a reward clearly tells the child what behavior is considered “good” and also helps to encourage the use of “good” behavior.
  • Giving rewards makes parents feel better.
  • Receiving rewards increases children's self-esteem

In this section, you will learn about the importance of promoting positive behavior through rewards, how to recognize when these rewards can be used to encourage positive behavior, and the process of shaping as a tool of behavior change.

The following section includes 2 activities: Principles for Rewarding and Types of Rewards/Reinforcers. These activities will help you learn about the different reward types and how to use them effectively.

Effective Attending and Ignoring

Now that you've learned how to reinforce your child's behavior, it is also important to learn when to reinforce your child's behavior. This is called "attending and ignoring."

Below, we have defined this phrase for you and have also included a few examples. Understanding when to attend to and when to ignore your child's behavior is a very useful skill for shaping your child's behavior. Remember, it might take time and practice before you see a change for the better in your child's behavior.

Attending and Ignoring

When you are with your child, your attention can be one of the most powerful rewards. It can be a source of motivation for your child to change his or her behavior. We call this "attending."

How people react to us teaches us how to behave. This is a constant process throughout our lives. Therefore, attending and ignoring is how your child receives feedback from you about their behavior.

Attending and ignoring go hand-in-hand, and one may be less effective without the other. Ignoring will be discussed in more detail in the next topic of this phase. For now, it is important to understand that this is how your child can receive feedback from you about their behavior. Good attending skills can show your child that you approve of their positive behaviors. In a similar way, good ignoring skills can show your child that he or she is acting inappropriately.

Be careful not to attend to your child's inappropriate behaviors. In times of difficult behavior, you will be better off ignoring. Ignoring can sometimes be hard to do as well, but it can act as an alternate way to reinforce positive behavior without having to punish your child with more direct actions.

It will take time and practice to master these skills. Over time, you will notice a decrease in your child's negative behavior and an increase in their positive behavior. Remember, consistency is key.

There are many benefits of using the attending and ignoring strategy:

  • Children gain feedback from behaviors that get them attention.
  • Behavior is affected by consequences.
  • If there is a certain payoff, behavior is increased.
  • If there are negative consequences, behavior is almost always decreased.
  • This strategy helps you relate to your child at his/her cognitive level.
  • Being able to think like and connect with your child improves the quality of your relationship.

Tips for Attending

  1. Always attend to behavior you want to increase and praise those behaviors.
  2. Be specific when praising positive behavior so your child knows what he or she has done that you like.
  3. Make eye contact, smile, and use a pleasant voice when attending.

Tips for Ignoring

  1. Don't make eye contact when ignoring behaviors.
  2. Stay calm; remember to use your coping skills!
  3. Be consistent, despite potentially worsening behaviors.
  4. Worsening behaviors will fade as they realize they aren't getting the reaction (attention!) they want.

Note to Parents

  • Kids learn a lot through attention.
  • We can help to break the cycle of problem behavior by changing how we give attention.
  • Never ignore potentially dangerous behavior.

Types of Behavior

Review Handout: Which Behaviors can be Ignored?

In order to change negative behaviors, parents must first determine how intense of a response the behavior requires.


Attention-seeking annoying behaviors like mock crying, whining, stomping feet, pouting, and tantrums are some ways children try to get attention.


Dangerous behaviors like hitting, setting fires, running away, damaging property, harming self or others re- quire immediate attention and intervention.


Other behaviors require a stronger consequence like time out, loss of privileges, assigning a work chore to promote motivation for change.

Attending and Ignoring Examples

This section includes a few examples of attending and ignoring. Once you are finished reviewing them, move on to the Attending and Ignoring activity to learn more about the process.

Children learn that they can quickly get parental attention by having tantrums. Read the scenarios below and consider how each adult should respond to their child.

Case 1

A child named Lorraine asks to go out and play, but her mother says “no.” Lorraine begins to whine for a while, but her mother is firm. She then throws herself on the floor, screams, cries and kicks.

Response A

Because her mother wants to stop the tantrum before it gets even more annoying, she says, "OK, you can go out." The child has just gotten the message that if she has a tantrum, she will get her way.

Response B

The mother states that Lorraine can't go out because it's dinner time, and then leaves the room. Lorraine realizes she has no audience, so the tantrum ends relatively soon. After dinner the parent says, "You sat and ate so nicely. You may go out now."

Which parental response was most effective? What did the parent do in the scenario?

Case 2

A 6-year-old child named Billy would like his father to make a snack for him after school. Instead of asking nicely, Billy rudely tells his father to make him a sandwich and get him a juice box. Billy's father has spoken to him in the past about using his manners to get something he needs. What should Billy's father do?

Response A

Billy's father should make him a snack despite not being asked nicely because Billy is probably hungry after a long day at school. He doesn't want Billy to starve!

Response B

Billy's father should ignore Billy’s requests until he uses his manners. When Billy uses the words "please and thank you," his father says, "Of course, Billy, thank you for asking nicely." Billy’s father also only gives Billy two reasonable options to choose from because she does not want him to spoil his dinner later.

Which parental response was most effective? What did the parent do in the scenario?

Managing Misbehavior (Discipline)

Earlier, you learned about some ways to help your child change his or her behavior using positive consequences, like praise and rewards, as ways to increase good behavior. These are more effective behavior management tools than discipline, and should be used as often as possible!

However, there are times when we need to discourage children from doing things we don’t like: things that are inappropriate, manipulative, dangerous, or just plain annoying.

In this section, you’ll learn some skills that make discipline more effective, as well as lots of specific strategies, like natural consequences, logical consequences, withholding privileges, and how to overcome some common obstacles.

Giving Effective Instructions

Review Handout: Giving Effective Instructions
  1. Reduce distractions before giving an instruction - for example, shut off the TV or stereo.
  2. Make eye contact.
  3. Say the child's name.
  4. Use a firm voice. Sound as if you expect to be listened to; businesslike, not angry or shrill.
  5. Be clear about what you want the child to do.
  6. Give only one instruction at a time. If you give more than one, you increase the change that your child will tune you out.
  7. Always praise/reward as soon as your child follows an instruction. It makes it more likely that your child will listen to your next instruction, and it makes listening more enjoyable for the child.
  8. Back up your instruction with consequences, if necessary. Never give an instruction you do not intend to follow up on.

Good Instructions

"Sally, please pick up your dirty socks."

"Please take out the garbage."

Bad Instructions

"You're such a pig! How can you sleep in a room like that?"

"Will you take out the garbage for me?"

Review Handout: Rules for Effective Discipline Review Handout: Time Out from Positive Reinforcement Review Handout: Taking Away (Removing or Losing) Privileges Complete Handout: Behavior Plan Form

Family Work

Communication and Problem Solving

Clear communication is essential to solving any problem between two or more people. Clear communication means being good at expressing what’s on your mind and also being receptive or open to what another person has to say. Without clear communication, a situation can go from bad to worse. When communicating, it is important to be respectful, to take turns, and to maintain self-control.

While communication is very important, it can also be very hard. What are some of the things that make it hard for you to communicate with your family members?

Do you find yourself saying things or talking in a way that make it more difficult to have a productive conversation?

Are there ever times where a situation “blows up” and you look back and realize that something you said or the way you said it seemed to be the trigger?

Try to identify at least 3 obstacles you each use and write them down on separate sheets of paper. Some examples could include:

  1. Saying "always" and "never"
  2. Yelling
  3. Threatening
  4. Refusing to talk

In this next section, we are going to go over some communication skills to help you and your family listen to and interact with each other more easily and more effectively.

Alternative Skills for Communication

Below are some examples of alternative skills for communication:

  1. Focus on the moment. Avoid using "always" and "never."
  2. Speak calmly
  3. Use good manners
  4. Accept responsibility for your own actions
  5. Take turns

Problem-Solving Techniques

How do you usually go about solving problems when you have a disagreement or a problem? How effective have these methods been for you in the past?

Complete Handout: Problem Solving (STAR) Complete Handout: Problem Solving Complete Handout: What We Learned in SKIP

End of Phase 4

Congratulations! You've completed phase 4, the final phase of this guide!