Ask An Expert / Discipline

What are appropriate consequences for bad behavior?

Targeting positive behaviors can be just as important

Kristin Carothers, PhD
Kristin Carothers, PhD

Clinical Psychologist, ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center

Child Mind Institute

What are appropriate consequences for bad behavior? We want to help and not hinder the behavioral growth and maturity of a child with IED.

It’s good to think about appropriate consequences, but teaching a child with IED ways to handle conflict ahead of time, to help him make better choices, can be just as important.

In order to help him mature, increase his opportunities for success by setting expectations ahead of time using the “positive opposite.” We use the positive opposite to teach children and adolescents what to do instead of focusing on what not to do. Focusing on what a child should do is a great teaching opportunity that results in the development of life skills. For instance, if he often has explosive reactions because peers do not agree with him, before he actually begins to play a teacher would give him the direct command to play calmly and find an adult to help problem solve during the play if he is triggered. Instead of telling him not to explode when there is a change of plans, a teacher would have a conversation with him ahead of time about the fact that plans may change and he may feel upset. Let him know he can choose an adult to discuss his feelings with and may earn a privilege if he can go with the flow.

Along with this, you can establish contingencies or behavioral systems that provide immediate or same day reinforcement for positive behaviors. Some examples of behaviors to target include, “Handle changes calmly,” or “Going with the flow when there is a change.” Engaging in those behaviors would result in him earning rewards from teachers. These rewards might include specific praise, points towards privileges, or an actual privilege in the moment (like extra computer time, visiting a friend in another classroom, helping the teacher).

We should remember that attention, whether positive or negative, is the strongest reinforcer of all behaviors. As adults, we may unintentionally reinforce behaviors we mean to punish, just by giving attention. This is why we recommend actively ignoring minor misbehavior. Active ignoring is a technique in which you ignore a behavior until you can catch the child engaging in a positive behavior, even if it’s by accident.

For behaviors that result in aggression or destruction of property, there should be a loss of privilege or time-limited consequence (i.e. sit out of a game for five minutes, lose specific number of minutes of recess or choice time, time out in the classroom or removal to special backup room for five minutes).