5 Behavior Modification Techniques for Children

Behavior modification techniques can help improve negative behaviors in children. Here are some you can put into practice with your little ones.
5 Behavior Modification Techniques for Children
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Behavior modification techniques for children are methods that aim to change negative behaviors, such as lying, disobeying, insulting others, challenging authority, and being aggressive. These techniques can help us improve these behaviors.

When disciplining children, it’s very important not to use violence because it isn’t an effective method of changing inappropriate behaviors. In fact, it actually damages their development. Behavior modification is achieved through techniques that help children understand what they can and cannot do.

Do you want to know what techniques you can use to improve your child’s behavior? Keep reading!

Behavior modification techniques for children

Using time out

This technique is very easy to use to help modify negative behaviors. It consists of putting children in an area that doesn’t have any positive associations. For example, this should be a place away from toys and distractions. The idea that this area is a boring place for them to sit.

How long you leave your child in time out should be proportional to their age. For example, you can add a minute depending on how old they are. You should take this into account because if you keep them in time out too long, this technique isn’t beneficial. It’s important to apply this technique immediately after any negative behavior.

5 Behavior Modification Techniques for Children

“Extinction” technique

This consists of preventing everything that can reinforce the child’s unwanted behaviors. A child expects to receive attention for their behavior, whether positive or negative. When a child’s behavior is negative, parents tend to scold them and give them the attention they’re looking for, even though it’s negative attention.

When we use this technique, it’s important that you always replace negative attention with positive attention. If you completely ignore children, children can feel displaced. We should also note that these techniques aren’t recommended for dangerous behavior.

For example, if your child says “You never listen to me!” or “You don’t love me anymore!” then you need to change the subject and ask them about something else. Instead, you can use a reward to avoid giving an attention-based response.

“Token economy” – one of the most widely used behavior modification techniques

This behavior modification technique for children is commonly used. In addition, it’s very fun for both children and parents.

This technique consists of putting in place a reward system. The child receives a prize if they perform the desired behaviors, such as setting the table, picking up toys, doing homework, or brushing their teeth. You should previously establish what the desired tasks are. These rewards also don’t need to be material. For example, rewards could be going for a picnic or going to the movies.

How to use this technique?

One way to do this is to use a piece of cardboard and write out all the desired behaviors. Then, you can establish a point system, which can be green stickers for doing the behavior and red for not doing it. Once the child gets the right number of points, they earn a reward.

5 Behavior Modification Techniques for Children

Relaxation techniques to decrease anxiety

If your child is agitated, nervous, or anxious, you can use relaxation techniques. This can help offer your child the opposite stimulus to what they’re feeling. One relaxation technique consists of contracting and relaxing all the muscles in the body in order to create a feeling of relaxation.

Additionally, there are several other methods to help children relax in a playful way that is also fun.

Using conduct contracts

This technique consists of creating a written contract between the parties involved, such as parents-children, teacher-student, or psychologist-patient. You can create a contract after negotiation between everyone. The contract should establish behaviors and consequences for the child.

In this contract, there are behaviors that the child agrees to and the consequences of not performing the behaviors. These consequences should be mild in order to avoid discouraging the child, and they should always be consistent.

Behavior modification techniques for children

These behavior modification techniques for children can improve negative behaviors. As a result, they can enrich their well-being and emotional development. However, it’s important that if the child doesn’t improve or respond adequately to the techniques, you consult a specialist for help.

Childhood has ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling peculiar to itself; nothing can be more foolish than to substitute our ways for them.”

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau –


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.