This may sound strange, but when your child first begins Applied Behavioral Analyses therapy (ABA), their behavior will get worse before it gets better. This probably means more tantrums and more household disruption than you currently have now – and a bunch of headaches! But if you ever want to help your child to function without ‘negative’ behavior— as painful as it is— you have to ride it out.

What is an Extinction Procedure?

An extinction procedure is when you don’t re-enforce a behavior you are trying to change. This doesn’t always mean ignoring the child; it could be preventative methods such as wearing a helmet because they bash their head against things.

Why Does the Behavior Get Worse?

First all behaviors have reasons. When your child uses an avoidance technique or can’t have the thing they want, they may use a negative behavior in some way to get it. Be it a tantrum, violence, running away or household destruction. This isn’t good as it won’t work when they are an adult with a job and a family.

But when you start to withdraw whatever they get from this ‘negative’ behavior, your child isn’t going to entirely give up the gig. At first they will likely stop, it will seem pleasant and like the therapy has worked wonders but then…

They will try harder.

And almost all children do it; it’s so well known it’s called an extinction burst.

They’ll scream louder and for longer, break more things, hit harder or more often and do whatever it takes to force what once worked, to work again. After all it was quite convenient in comparison to whatever it is they have to do now, be it asking, or waiting, or sitting still.  The key is to be consistent, if everyone is re-enforcing the ‘positive’ behavior the child will eventually learn that it’s far more convenient to ask, wait, or sit nicely.

 

It can be quite traumatizing as a parent to see an extinction burst. To see your child wailing at the top of their lungs and acting in an extreme manor puts a lot of stress on you. You question whether this is the right thing for your child, or whether your child can handle it. This is all completely normal and when ABA is done right, this should fade with time leaving you with a child who can handle life in a positive way.