Frequently Asked Questions About Behavior Modification

Health Writer

What is Behavior Modification?

Behavior Modification is a term used to describe a program that is set up to increase the frequency of acceptable behaviors and decrease the frequency of unacceptable behaviors.   It is normally used with a reward and consequence structure.   Positive feedback and rewards are given on an immediate basis for "good" behavior.

Behavior modification is based on the premise that all individuals want to please others and feel good about themselves.

What does a behavior modification program consist of?

A basic behavior modification program consists of goals, rewards and consequences.   Some programs use charts to monitor the progress, while others can use a game of sorts to help improve a certain behavior.   No matter what the method used, a behavior modification program should consist of the following:

  • A specific targeted behavior
  • A goal
  • An understanding of expectations on the part of the parent and the child
  • Set reward for acceptable behavior
  • Consequence for unacceptable behavior
  • Time limit

How do you implement a behavior modification program?

The most important step in implementing a behavior modification program is to have clear goals.   What do you want the end result to be?   Many effective programs work on one behavior at a time, for example, handing in homework or cleaning their room.   Working on several behaviors at one time can be confusing and overwhelming to a child.

The second step would be in developing an understanding of exactly what behaviors are expected of both you and your child.   Make sure that expectations are reasonable and attainable.   Make sure your child understand exactly what is expected of him/her.   In the example of "clean your room", use detailed instructions to explain exactly what you mean.   Does this consist of making the bed, picking up clothes and toys from the floor, vacuuming ad dusting?   Be as specific as possible.

The third step would be developing a reward/consequence system.   Be sure everyone knows in advance exactly what rewards and consequences will be given if the behavior is not carried out.

Consistency.   Make sure you are consistent with your rewards/consequences.   Don't be lax one day and hard the next.   It is important that your child understand your expectations.

Why is behavior modification important?

Research has shown that a combination of stimulant medication and behavior modification is the most effective treatment of ADHD in children.     Many children, however, do not respond to stimulant medication, or due to family beliefs, do not take medication.   Other children do not need stimulant medication but ADHD can be effectively managed with behavior modification only.

No matter what the case, behavior modification is an important part of the treatment process for children with ADHD.   Structure, a clear understanding of expectations and consistency are important in building self esteem and creating success.

Does behavior modification work for adults as well as children?

Behavior modification programs can work with anyone.   In adults, there must be a desire to change a behavior.   All individuals have a desire to please others and live up to their expectations.   Behavior modification programs can be set up for virtually all aspects of life.     With adults, many times the rewards are simply the feeling of accomplishment or of knowing a job was well done.   For example, learning to program your day on a hand help computer is a form of behavior modification, at the end of the day, the feeling that you accomplished what you set out to do in the morning can be it's own immense reward.