Moms and Dads, would you believe me if I told you that you could modify the misbehavior of the troubled boy or boys in your family?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is done by licensed mental health professionals, but Cognitive Behavior Modification (CBMod or BMod) can be done by parents.1
Training to perform “BMod,” as it is most affectionately known, is available to parents at community mental health clinics across the nation, as well as at local chapters of Children and Adults with Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder (CHADD) and Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA). There is also a growing body of evidence that parents implementing BMod in the early going can in many cases significantly reduce the need for medication.1
BMod is a simple process that shapes a child’s behavior by rewarding the things he or she does right, as expected, or as directed. The rewards range from basic praise to increased privileges, to tangible rewards. BMod can also take on a discouraging approach, using criticism and withdrawal of privileges for unacceptable behavior.1
“To understand and to properly deal with problematic behavior, you have to think about what came before it, as well as what should come after it.”
Child Mind Institute
It’s as easy as A, B, C, parents. It’s all about identifying the antecedents (triggers and self-talk), defining the behaviors (visible misbehaviors), and determining the most appropriate consequences (natural or designed, positive or negative).2
Step 1 involves defining the specific problematic behaviors in question. It or they must be both observable and measurable. What misbehaviors must be stopped?2
Step 2 involves identifying the antecedents that led to the behaviors in question. Could it have been hunger, fatigue, anxiety or some other kind of distraction? Could it have been that either or both the expectations and the consequences were not crystal clear to everyone involved? Could there have been an issue with the timing of the transition from understanding to performance? Could the conditions or circumstances involved have been too complicated? Or could the lack of choice with regard to possible behaviors have played a distracting role?2
Chances are the primary culprit is negative self-talk. To properly identify the internal dialogue, especially those statements (said or unsaid aloud), requires careful listening over time and writing them down over time.3
“I have never done this before. What happens if I fail?”
An anonymous pre-teen who ultimately avoids the task at hand altogether
Step 3 involves determining the consequences that would most motivate or encourage the desired positive behavior. Positive attention leads most often to positive behaviors. Focus in on the behaviors desired most, and ignore the rest. Then reward the positives whenever they happen.2
Key in this process is the formation of positive alternative self-talk to be used in place of negative self-talk. You must flip the old negative statements into positive ones.3
“I have never done this before, but I am sure if I plan and practice, I can do it.”
Same anonymous pre-teen choosing to use a positive self-statement before doing a new task
By using positive self-talk before taking on a new or previously difficult task, new behaviors can be forged. Positive actions come from positive affirmations. Instead of telling yourself something negative and ultimately avoiding the whole task, you build yourself up and face the task head on. 3
“When your negative thoughts control you, it becomes difficult to control your behavior responses to unpleasant situations.”
What’s so different about doing behavior modification with boys? New evidence is emerging that concludes boys have more behavior problems than girls, with the difference appearing in early childhood.4
A longitudinal study of more than 10,000 children from birth to 9-years of age, showed that even as early as 3 years of age, boys were already presenting more destructive and aggressive behaviors than girls the same age. Boys tended early on to resolve their problems externally, while girls typically did so internally.4
“Studies should not be used to conclude that boys are more troublesome than girls…but as a starting point to identify at-risk children and the risk factors…as early as possible.”
1 “Behavior Modification for Kids,” Carl Sherman, Ph.D.
2 “Managing Problem Behavior at Home,” Child Mind Institute.
3 “How Cognitive Behavior Modification Works,” Verywell Mind.
4 “Nature and Nurture: Why Do Boys and Girls Behave Differently?” Gehan Roberts.