Extinction, an intervention procedure that has been found to be effective in reducing tantrum problems or other maladaptive behaviors.
Extinction helps an individual overcome a certain behavior that was previously reinforced but is no longer being supported. It is used to condition a child to reduce or even completely stop a certain behavior by no longer providing reinforcements for it. The idea of letting a child cry it out is an example of an extinction approach. The assumption is that a child cries at night because he/she gets the parent’s attention. A parent implementing extinction may instead ignore the child’s cry. Over time, the child realizes that crying is not getting them the results they are seeking (attention) and will eventually stop. Afterwards, the parent will give the child the attention he/she desires once they have stopped crying.
What is an Extinction Burst?
An extinction burst occurs when there is an increase in the frequency or intensity of the unwanted behavior when the extinction method is being used. For example, in the scenario previously mentioned, the child would have cried louder in an effort to push the parent to their breaking point. Ultimately the child will realize that their cries will not provide them the attention they are seeking and will cease the behavior. Extinction burst(s) typically occur when the parent(s) begins using these techniques by cutting off the traditional response the child is used to. For example, a parent would always pick up a toy that the child drops on the ground. The child begins to throw the toy on the ground on purpose. Because of this, the parent is advised to not pick up the toy. The child will possibly start to tantrum because the parent is no longer picking up the toy. This can be a difficult task for parents to stick with especially when their child is crying. But eventually, extinction bursts should lessen.
Tips on How to Control Extinction Bursts
- Do not reinforce the maladaptive or undesirable behavior by responding to it. Instead, stay strong, grit your teeth, or do something to distract yourself, but try your best to not succumb to the temptation to react as you normally would. If the unwanted behavior is reinforced the child will see a response to their negative behavior and will continue to escalate the undesired behavior.
- Stay consistent in how you react or respond. Whether it is a child’s tantrum or a wailing baby, outbursts can still happen. And if it does, what is important is how you choose to respond to the negative behavior the first few times. If you stay determined through this phase, you will eventually experience your desired behavior.
- Be patient and don’t expect miracles overnight.
- Be prepared. Know what to expect so you are able to deal with an extinction burst and prevent it from repeating.
- Get everyone on board. It is not enough for the child’s parent(s)to respond a certain way. Instead, everyone in the family circle will need to ensure they are following the same extinction approach for it to be successful. If one individual gives in to the child’s outburst, he/she will continue with their behavior and extinction bursts will recur.
- Do not use extinction when dealing with particularly harmful habits. If the risks or downside of extinction burst is very high and potentially life threatening, avoid this approach at all costs.
When done correctly and consistently, extinction is a very effective tool in reducing negative behaviors. This technique can be slightly difficult for some parents to adhere to but when completed it can benefit both parents and their little ones tremendously. Outbursts might have to get worse before they can get better and eventually stop, so hang in there!
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