Friday, March 28, 2014

The Value of a Good Praise

One cannot overestimate the power of a good praise. Who doesn’t like to be praised? Most of us like to be told we did something well. And as a result we’ll try to do it again, and again, and again. Kids are the same.
Therefore, praise is necessary to reward (reinforce) desired behaviors. Do not ignore good behavior if you want to see it again.
It is important to note that praise should not be related to how you feel about the relationship/person. It should be about the behavior: “Good job with your homework.” “I’m happy you are playing with your brother so nicely.”
This being said, it is very easy to spoil your praise by adding words to it that might cause the opposite effect of what you intent. Rather than encouraging, they punish.
So, here is a list of our favorite “Praise Spoilers”:
BRINGING IN THE PAST: “Well, finally you did .......” Keep in mind that kids live in the present. If you child perform the desired behavior, “now” is what matters.  
BRINGING IN THE FUTURE: “I hope you do time.” Or “See, if you make an effort, you’ll be able to do it again next time.” This can be overwhelming and therefore, punishing. “Because I did it now, I’ll have to do it forever,” is what your child might feel.
DISCOUNTING: “That wasn’t too hard, was it?” Don’t be “cheap.” The value is in a clear and straight praise.
GOING TOO LONG: “You did such a good job, I’ve never seen you do you did now, because.....” The child tunes you out after a while and learns to tune you out from the beginning next time you praise him.
ADDING ON: Putting “but” after. “Good! You’ve made your bed, BUT look at the toys”. Do your child a favor, let him savor you praising him for a little bit, would you?
PROPHESYING: “I knew you could do it.” Are you telling your child he didn’t do it before “on purpose”? Even if you mean that you trusted him, your praise could easily be misunderstood.
PRAISING CHILD, NOT PERFORMANCE: we make it about the child’s real self, instead of about what he’s doing. Love is NOT unconditional. “I’m proud of or I love you because you cleaned your room.” We should be proud of our kids unconditionally, love them no matter what they do or don’t do.
EXAGGERATION: “That’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” Just because they drew a picture of a girl holding a flower, seriously? Praise in proportion, do not overdue it, kids feel the difference. And they will really appreciate when the “most beautiful” is deserved.
COMPARING: You teach your child to compare themselves to others. “You do so much better than your brother”.

What are the risks of praise spoiling?

Well, just to mention two, your child can become a “workaholic” (works harder & harder to get love & acceptance) and/or give up: “No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be good enough. Why bother?”

So, fantastic job mom and dad, we love you, you are the best and we couldn’t be prouder. Keep up the amazing work you are doing raising your awesome kids!!!!!

Daniel Adatto, BCBA






Sunday, March 16, 2014

What’s in a Child’s Mind?

I think it’s time to put ourselves in our children’s shoes, see the world through their eyes. Instead of demanding them to adjust to us, I submit to you that we’ll be better if we adjust to them. After all, we are the adults, right?  

So, today I’ll be your translator. It might be a good idea to write an “Adults-Children” dictionary.  

First, kids live in the present. “Now” is their entire lives. And this is more relevant when trying to understand kids with special needs. When you say “No more TV” they hear “No more TV forever.” If they have a tummy ache, they are hungry, tired, cold, hot, BORED, it is for the rest of their lives.

Second, they play, that’s what they do. Their goal in life is to have fun, to seek pleasant sensations, to enjoy, to do what they like ALL THE TIME. When you tell them it’s time to get dressed to go to school, or leave the computer because they have to brush their teeth, what they hear is “It’s time to leave paradise to go to hell.” Imagine how you would feel if you have to leave the comfort of your home to go to work at a job you either don’t like or you hate. By the way, you have to do it for free, no salary or any compensation whatsoever.
Children learn by imitation rather than following directions. If there is screaming at home, they’ll scream. If they see violence on TV or video games, they’ll like violence. If we adults throw a tantrum when we get frustrated, they’ll incorporate tantrums to their behavior repertoires. If you say “No” to them a thousand times per day, they learn to say “No” when you need their compliance.   

And children cannot wait, they didn’t grasp yet the understanding of “Not Now”, or “I’m on the phone” or “Mommy is busy.” Kids’ basic principle of conduct is “Instant Gratification.” What they know since birth is “I cried and mommy runs to feed or comfort me.” Selfishness rather than patience is their language.  
Last but not least, kids don’t play by the rules. They can scream and cry as if they are being tortured. They hit, bite, throw things, etc. It is “guerilla” fight.

So, now we understand them, at least in part. What do we do with this information?
We change our behaviors in order to change our kids’ behaviors.

If you know they live in the present instead of telling them “No more TV”, you can say something like “It’s time to do homework. If you finish your homework, you can watch TV after dinner.” “We can’t go outside right now, but we can go to the park tomorrow.” Grant wishes in the future. Do not leave them with a plain “No.”

And wait until the show (or game) is over, do not interrupt favorite activities to ask them to perform non-preferred tasks.

Easy so far? Ok, let’s keep going.

Feed them before they are hungry; provide them with fun activities (an enriched, stimulating environment) BEFORE they get bored. Find them healthy recreational activities (sports, arts & crafts, music, etc.). Planned play-dates.  A weekend with no plans is a recipe for disaster. 
Transform non-preferred activities in preferred ones by pairing them with rewards. For example, instead of “No more computer, it’s time to brush your teeth,” try “When you finish brushing your teeth you can play on the computer. Come on, hurry up!” You would  be more than willing to leave the comfort of your home if you are going to a Spa, or a well-paid job that you enjoy, right? The same applies to your kids. Another example could be “It is bed time. If follow directions I’ll give you 25 cents each night you can use to buy a toy.”

Because they learn by imitation, teach by example. Show them how you control yourself in times of frustration and how to appropriately interact with others. Model polite manners. Monitor what they watch on TV and what they play on the computer.

If you know children don’t play by the rules, do not engage in power struggles with them. They will throw a tantrum at the grocery store and you’ll have to give in to their demands, thus reinforcing problematic behaviors. Motivate rather than force. Prevent rather than react. Be ready, always have a Plan B. Do not throw yourself into troubled waters hoping things will be OK. Very likely they won’t.

Do as much as possible when they are at school, asleep or when daddy is home. Satiate them with attention before talking on the phone or washing dishes.

Follow these simple strategies and you won’t believe how your life will change. Learn to manipulate your kids. After all, they manipulate us, right? 

Daniel Adatto, BCBA                                                                                  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Alternatives to Punishment

I’d like to start this blog defining Punishment/Aversive Behavior Management.
First, punishment is doing something unpleasant to an individual in an effort to stop a behavior from occurring.   Therefore, it is likely to produce psychological, emotional and/or physical pain. And this is one of the main reasons why we recommend to stay away from punishment. Especially when talking about parenting your precious kids.  
Punishment can be also defined by the behavior of the individual being punished because he/she would avoid or escape from it if given the opportunity.
Using punishment is reacting out of frustration. For more information on this topic see our blog “Responding vs. Reacting” by clicking on
What are the effects of punishment?
Stops the behavior for the moment. This is why people use punishment. However, it suppresses but does not eliminate the behavior. This is another reasons why we recommend against it.
Punishment puts the parent in the position of trying to control the child’s behavior versus teaching the child to control their own behavior, often resulting in power struggles which cause stress, frustration and anger to the parent.
Punishment creates fear, anger and/or resentment, which can result in more severe behavior problems. It teaches that whatever the child is trying to communicate is not important, wrong or bad.
In sum, people tend to use punishment because it stops the child’s problem behavior immediately, and therefore reinforces the parents’ punishing behavior. It is also an outlet for the parents’ own frustration and anger.
So, what to do instead? What the alternatives to punishment?
Positive/Non-aversive behavior management avoids the use of punishment because the goal is to develop or increase the occurrence of the desirable, functional behaviors.
Positive behavior management is implemented with a concern for the rights and dignity of the individual; its principles and strategies are acceptable to the general public and thus, can be implemented in community environments.
Here are some tips:
-  Look at what the person is trying to communicate, and teach another way to communicate it    appropriately.
-  Teach your kids how to cope with their emotions.
-  Set limits on inappropriate behavior.  For more information on Limits Settings go to
 - And always reward positive behavior.
a. Alternative communications: “Use your words, tell me that you are angry”.
b. Coping skills: “Let’s take some deep breaths. Go in your room and listen to music.”
c. Set limits: “It’s not okay to yell at me.”
d. Reinforcement: “That’s great that you got mad, but you did not yell!”  “You earned two points today.”
Steps to a non-aversive Approach

1. First, validate the child’s feelings: “I know you are mad at me because you want to go outside and I told you ‘No’.”

2. Set limits on the inappropriate behavior: “But you need to follow my directions and stay inside because it is raining.”

3. Provide alternatives to the behavior (look at what the child is trying to communicate and teach them another way): “Now, how about playing with your Legos, or your drawing set?”

4. Grant the child’s wishes in the future: “You will be able to play outside after school tomorrow.” 

5. Reward positive behavior: “It’s great that you got mad but you followed directions.  You earned your sticker.” 

Always remember Janet Hackleman’s phrase: “The goal of parents should not be to control their children’s behaviors but to teach them to control themselves.”


Daniel Adatto, BCBA