Behavioral management procedures systematically apply positive and negative consequences contingent on specific child behaviors. Behavior management procedures consist of techniques based on learning principles that can be applied to problems to strengthen adaptive behaviors and weaken maladaptive behaviors. Of particular interest in clinical feeding interventions are 1) aspects of the feeder’s responses that have an inadvertent affects on feeding patterns and 2) planned techniques for “unlearning” or modifying maladaptive feeding patterns by rearranging social and environmental consequences for feeding. Behavior management techniques have been particularly recommended for problems related to food selectivity, mealtime conduct problems, and delays in self-feeding, as opposed to problems with quantity of intake which may be more affected by appetitive variables.
Background Education for Providers
Considerable evidence supports the use of behavioral approaches in the treatment of feeding disorders. Behavioral treatment goals generally consist of (1) decreasing behavioral problems at meals; (2) decreasing parent stress at meals; (3) increasing pleasurable parent-child interactions at meals; (4) increasing oral intake or variety of oral foods; (4) advancing texture (e.g. moving from purees and smooth foods to chewable solids); and (5) increasing the structure and routine of meals. Behavioral treatment strategies include implementation of mealtime structure and a feeding schedule, appetite manipulation, behavior management, and parent training. Ongoing consultation with other specialists, especially a dietician and speech pathologist, is frequently necessary to monitor the safety of the therapeutic plan that can result in transient weight loss, or that may unmask oral motor or swallowing deficits as behavioral resistance to feeding begins to resolve.
The essential elements of behavior management are (1) to identify the targeted behavior for change; (2) select techniques to increase or decrease behaviors congruent with feeding goals; and (3) develop a treatment plan that consistently pairs a contingency (positive or negative) with the targeted behavior. Strategies to increase positive behaviors include use of positive and negative reinforcement and discrimination training. To reduce negative behaviors, treatments typically include extinction, satiation, punishment, and desensitization. Typically, behavioral strategies are used in combination to create the strongest treatment effects in the shortest period of time.
Overview of behavior management principles and strategies (PDF)
Instructions for Provider
Principles to INCREASE behavior
Principles to DECREASE Behavior
|Underlying Principle||Description of Application||Example||Supplemental Materials for at Home Behavioral Management|
|Extinction (PDF)||Withholding rewarding stimulus contingent on target response||Ignore mild inappropriate behavior; Continue prompts during escape behavior||Tips to Extinguish Unwanted Behaviors (PDF))|
|Punishment (PDF)||Present aversive stimulus or remove rewarding stimulus contingent on undesired behavior||Use timeout; Give verbal reprimand; Restrict toys; Use overcorrection||Timeout (PDF)|
|Desensitization (PDF)||Pair conditioned aversive stimulus with absence of aversive events or with presence of positive events||Distract child during fearful procedure; Use gentle massage to promote acceptance of touch<||The 5-Senses Challenge (PDF) Desensitization Tips (PDF)|
A behavioral contract is a written agreement between a caregiver and a child to help them to achieve a specified goal. In a medical context this tool is generally used to help with adherence to a medical plan. Typically, the goal is stated in clear terms that the caregiver and the child understand, the behavior is defined, and a reward is agreed upon which is available upon completing the conditions of the contract.
Background Education for Providers
Using behavioral contracts to treat nutrition problems is a common practice. Previous studies support the use of this technique, especially when a clearly defined behavior is identified which can be easily modified and monitored.
Typically a behavioral contract includes (1) who the caregivers and child are, (2) the targeted problem to change, (3) the goal or objective, (4) method of monitoring, and (5) consequences, which may include both positive and negative consequences dependent upon the child’s progress.
When developing a contract make sure that each participant is aware of their role. Typically, the caregiver is responsible for monitoring progress and giving rewards/consequences as appropriate. The child must follow the behavioral objective guidelines (engaging in a specified behavior or refraining from a specified behavior) to earn the reward. The most effective contracts have only 1 or 2 target behaviors which are clearly defined and which are easily monitored. Monitoring should be done daily and rewards and/or consequences should be given at the appropriate interval. Rewards and/or consequences should match the difficulty of the task. In other words, do not over reward believing this will improve the likelihood a child will comply. Past studies show that children who are over compensated actually decrease the frequency of the target behavior! Likewise, rewards and consequences should be in close proximity to the behavior otherwise the reward/consequence loses its effectiveness to change behavior.
Instructions for Provider
A behavioral contract is a written agreement that allows a child to earn a small reward or privilege by demonstrating a desirable behavior. Effective contracts are negotiated between adult caregivers and a child. In negotiation, the caregivers and child decide on a clearly defined target or goal, choose measurable short term objectives, establish methods for tracking progress, arrange for frequent positive consequences for meeting the terms of the contract, and specify dates and times for evaluation and renegotiation of the contract.
Goals should be likened to specific behavioral changes as opposed to clinical outcomes. For example, eating 3 servings of vegetables a day is a better goal than reaching a weight goal. Once the desired behavior has changed for a sustained period the contract should be renegotiated to promote continued progress on nutrition goals.