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Improve Kids' Behavior with Pre-task Rehearsal

Improve Children's Behavior


Updated June 26, 2014

Woman and child in supermarket
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Does your child struggle with controlling hyperactivity, non-compliance, or defiant behavior? Do you find yourself avoiding taking him to public places? Does her behavior keep you from doing things you and your family would enjoy? If so, pre-task rehearsal may help you teach your child how to manage his own behavior and learn from the process.

Children with maladaptive behavior problems can cause harm to themselves or others, disrupt learning in school, and impact overall family dynamics. Pre-task rehearsal can be used with individual children or groups to reduce behavior problems at home and school. It can be used alone or in combination with other behavior modification systems.

Pre-task rehearsal is a way to help children learn to manage their own problem behaviors by:

  • Informing them in advance where they will be and what they will be doing;
  • Explaining the behavior expectations in positive terms;
  • Developing alternative behavior strategies to help them deal with problem situations that may arise;
  • Practicing the task ahead of time using various behavior scenarios; and
  • Using behavior successes and failures as teachable moments rather than relying solely on punishment after-the-fact.
  1. Know your child. Think about the types of problem behaviors he shows, and reflect on what triggers them. It may be helpful to you to make a list of the common behaviors, when they occur, and why they seem to happen. If your child is old enough, and you feel it can be done appropriately, enlist his help in making the list. Many children with behavior problems are upset by their own behaviors and are relieved to be a part of resolving the problem.
  2. Know the problem situation. Think about the setting. Where are you going? What will you be doing? What behavior is appropriate in the situation? What behavior is not appropriate? Make notes. Again, if appropriate, include your child. Keep the tone of your conversation with your child positive. It can actually be rewarding for you and your child. Have her brainstorm behaviors that would and would not be appropriate in the setting.
  3. Know your child's limitations in the situation. Brainstorm things that may be a problem for him. Does he need breaks? Does he become over-stimulated and need ways to center himself? Talk with your child about appropriate ways for him to get away from problem situations before they erupt into full-blown incidents. Again, keep the conversation positive. Humor helps.
  4. Role play the problem situations with your child, discussing positive ways to resolve them. If she tends to fight with another child, practice how the fight might start and how she might resolve the problem. Ignoring, walking away, or speaking with an adult might be alternatives she could use. Practice these until she understands and feels ready to use them.
  5. Develop a plan with him to remind him of strategies if he seems to need help during practice and also while actually in problem situations. A hand on the shoulder, a code word or phrase, or whispering in his ear.
  6. Remember to tell your child your are pleased with his positive choices. Talk with him about times or incidents that were difficult for him. Brainstorm ideas to help him deal with those problems more effectively in the future.

By working with your child in this way, you are making him an active partner in understanding his behavior problems and planning positive ways to manage his behavior. Together, you are facing failures as learning experiences--not simply disciplinary matters. This method improves on punishment by teaching positive behaviors before problems occur.

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