Setting Expectations to Prevent Behavior Breakdowns

Date: February 8, 2016
Author: Sarah Pope, M.S., BCBA

By Sarah Pope, M.S., BCBA

Have you ever been in an unusual situation and experienced a breakdown in your child’s behavior due to what you suspect may be because the activity was new and unfamiliar?

Before going into difficult situations or new environments, take time to talk to your child about how you expect him/her to behave. This discussion may include what they will see or do, rules they should follow, ways to behave, and things not to do. Be literal, clear, and concise in setting expectations with your child. If needed, provide the promise of a reinforcer or reward that will be given if they follow these guidelines.

Below is a brief example of what to say to set expectations with your child:

We are going to a spring carnival. While we are there, you need to stay near mom and dad. If you want to go anywhere, tell us with your words where you want to go and we will go together. We might have to wait in lines, but if you can stay calm and we can stay together, you can watch your iPad in the car on the way home.

You will feel calmer knowing a plan is in place and your child will be more likely to cooperate knowing that if they follow the simple rules, they can earn something at the conclusion of the event. Setting expectations helps manage the situation and puts everyone at ease.