Behaviour therapies in children

Origin of civilization and behavior

Edward Thorndike described the initial processes of behavior therapy in 1911. He focused on methods that modify behavior. Thorndike’s initial experiments were on cats and monkeys. However extrapolation to humans was not difficult at all. Clearly, there was a reason to wish that a particular behavior be altered; thus implying that behaviors become malfunctioned and subsequently require timely repair like a mechanical or electrical devices. Behavior therapy is as old as civilization itself. Asking a third person for advice regarding how to deal with the ill impact of another’s actions on oneself is behavior therapy. There are wide ranges of techniques that can be used to change the behavior of oneself or another. Pure behavior therapy without mindfulness is seen in animals (it is well understood as training). Human behavior is usually connected with thoughts and feelings. These are therefore incorporated in the therapy paradigm. Cognitions and emotions are combined with behavior in CBT and REBT.

Understanding behavior

Behavior is defined as anything that a human or animal does which is observable by another. Thoughts are different from behavior as it seems like no one can measure them; likewise emotion too. However thought and emotion impact behavior, thus alteration of either leads to behavior change. Behaviorists believe believe that personal thinking and environmental controls define behavior. Since human nature is manipulated by infinite number and varieties of influencers, understanding behavior mechanics is important to implement change in a ‘dysfunctional’ behavior and mitigate ‘positive’ behaviors. While traditional behavior modification approaches are known to each one who wishes to change the conduct of another (rewarding a good action and punishing a bad one), the minds of today are more complex and markedly stubborn, thus behavior modification and behavior therapy ought to follow scientific principles and must be guided by experts.

Learning and unlearning

Behavior is a learned phenomenon. Everything we (or our spouses or children or friends or neighbors or anyone we know; even animals!) do has been learned and has become a pattern. And if this is unwanted and uncomfortable, it needs to change. Behavior therapy aims at breaking an undesirable pattern of behavior by unlearning negative attitudes and actions; and replacing them with wanted and appropriate repetitions, which then frequently seem like ‘good habits’. Habits are created,nurtured and conditioned. To make them was not easy, thus breaking them is no simple task either.

Faulty learning

Any behavior modification procedure involves an initial analysis of the unwanted behavior in great detail. The therapist may take lengthy in depth interviews in order to understand the undesirable behavior (temper tantrum in a child or smoking for instance in an adult). The exact repetitive pattern of dysfunction is thus identified. There is always some precursor or certain aftermath of a particular behavior that makes it repetitive. Seldom would anyone repeat an action that brings negative outcomes. There is always some reward attached to a dysfunctional behavior. Tantrums attract attention from parents and often lead to fulfillment of desires in children, smoking outwardly eases tension and apprehension in adults; anger and aggression in children allows catharsis of their frustration; thus the mind tends to repeat these actions. Behaviors by constant repetition get deeply engrained.


The challenge is to break inappropriate behavior by unlearning the reward and conditioning oneself to change the situation or thought or emotion associated with it, in order to change the behavior itself. Complex behaviors can be broken down into simpler steps and small successes are monitored in order to achieve greater heights in personal improvement. Often the task seems overwhelming but when broken down, it becomes plausible and attainable. Rewards can be set for the stepwise tasks, homework assignments are allotted and regular checks are kept in place. There are over 30 different behavior modification strategies at MINDFRAMES and each of these target specific negative behavior patterns. The mind is highly moldable, if only we choose to soften it and shape it rightly. After all, one that doesn’t bend either stays as it is (rigid, unyielding, unappreciated and despised) or breaks.

Faulty behaviors

Faulty behaviors are the source of trouble. Some of these include:

  • Refusal to eat food
  • Bedwetting (day or night)
  • Aggressive conduct
  • Short-temperedness
  • Thumb sucking habit
  • Nail biting patterns
  • Nagging behaviors
  • Apathetic attitudes
  • And several more…

Behavior therapy methods

These are the different techniques used for modifying behavior

  • Operant conditioning
  • Respondent conditioning
  • Covert conditioning
  • Observational learning
  • Contingency management
  • Habit reversal training
  • Systematic desensitization
  • Flooding and Implosion
  • Imitation and Modeling
  • Exposure & response prevention

Frequently Asked Questions

Hpw can children be conditioned?
Many children develop negative patterns of behavior that become habitual. Most positive behaviors don’t always draw attention. If they don’t receive attention children react with dysfunctional behaviors and cannot change them. Thus conditioning generates faulty behavior and we need behavior conditioning methods to mend it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Don’t children outgrow negative behaviors?

Children are like wet mud that the potter needs to gently shape while wet. An unwanted scar on the wet pot does not vanish. Thus negative behaviors also persist. In fact they worsen as the child grows because the children develop their own thinking that is based on childhood learning. Those that misbehave in childhood tend to behave worse in adolescence and adulthood.