Preschoolers, like toddlers, are known for their behavioral challenges for parents and strong emotions. Toddlers continue to learn about the world around them and to navigate their interaction with the world. Parents, teachers, and other caregivers play a crucial role in influencing their behavior and emotional life through their responses and how they respond. Consistency is key across the adults in a child’s life in order to make progress with behavior change. Our behavior teams at Acuity Behavior Solutions create individualized plans and programs for children, and this helps immensely to ensure the strategies work for the child and family. Here are some effective parenting and behaviour management strategies that are commonly used in the field of ABA and in general:

1. Reinforcement: Provide reinforcement when your child does something well or right. Even if it was not perfect, but it was better than prior behavior. Over time, you can raise the standards for what earns that reinforcement. Physical items like toys or games can be provided. Some children respond well to social reinforcement like high fives, positive praise, and physical affection like hugs or tickles for younger children will help children to make a connection between receiving good things and engaging in the behaviour being reinforced. The idea is to show the child, “That was good – do more of that.”

2. Teach Positive Self Talk: Teaching positive self-talk like, “I did it!” or “I’m proud of myself!” helps to ensure that children don’t remain dependent upon parent or adult reinforcement.

3. Establish clear expectations: Communicate what is expected from your child. Simplify expectations clearly using phrases like “First…then…” For example, if they want to play with a friend, explain, “First, we’ll clean up our room, and then we’ll go to the park with your friend.”

4. Teach Language as a Replacement: Teach language as a replacement for behaviors you wish to reduce. Teach the children to express themselves by providing a “script” of what to say in the situation at hand. For instance, if your child takes a toy from another preschooler, help them return the toy and request them to say to their friend, “May I have a turn with that toy?” Our ABA teams create specific goals for children we work with to increase their functional communication skills. This has been shown in the research to reduce problem behavior like tantrum, whining, and crying.

5. Routines: Routines help children and parents to know what to expect, which often results in fewer problem behaviors, due to being mentally primed, or prepared for the upcoming events. Over time, you may teach your child to deviate from the routine by changing one or a few things about the routine at a time.

6. Give Simple Instructions: Give children one or two instructions at a time, and wait before repeating the instructions again or giving negative feedback. Some children require more time to process and consider the commands before they respond. Part of ABA also includes teaching children the ability to follow instructions, which can reduce problem behaviors and tantrums as the child learns to follow directions and gains reinforcement with more and more ease.

7. Demonstrate Visible Calmness: Maintain a relaxed tone of voice, posture, and facial expression. Neutral is better in most cases during problem behaviors. For some children, showing you are upset will further upset your child. In other cases, showing you are upset can actually reinforce the behavior if the child enjoys a little reaction.

8. Offer Choices: Choices within a boundary are an excellent way to give a child a directive but also to allow some control. For example, “We are going to sit here – which chair would you like – this one or that one?”

9. Use Some Silliness: Turn tasks into games or fun competitions to distract and engage a different way of thinking. This could be considered redirection, and it is ideal to use silliness prior to a full tantrum, to ensure that the family is not accidentally reinforcing the problem behavior. For example, instead of saying, “Time to go potty,” say, “I will race you to the potty! Let’s see who gets there first!”

10. Points Systems Consider using a token system or a points system for earning reinforcement. This will give a visual reminder of how close the child is to earning a reinforcer. This can ultimately help teach delayed gratification as the child does more and more tasks between the tokens and thus the reinforcer. The team at Acuity Behavior Solutions are able to create tailored and specific points systems for the children we work with, in order to maximize progress and reinforcement, as well as to fade the amount of reinforcement needed over time.

11. Teach Self-Calming: Teach self-calming activities. Teach them while the child is calm. Some children dislike counting or deep breathing techniques. Our behavior teams at Acuity Behavior Solutions guide families in the best methods specific to your child during ABA therapy.

By employing these strategies, parents and caregivers can create a supportive environment that helps preschoolers develop emotionally and behaviorally while nurturing their curiosity and joy for learning.

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