Using Extinction to Decrease Problem Behavior

Challenging behaviors, otherwise known as “problem behavior,” “unwanted behavior,” or “socially unacceptable behavior” is any behavior that is disruptive to the student and/or others. These behaviors may impede learning and/or social interactions. If not addressed or if addressed incorrectly these behaviors could become significantly worse.

Extinction is a procedure used to decrease undesired behaviors. Although it may not be readily evident, these behaviors are typically maintained by reinforcement. To extinguish a problem behavior, you must stop the delivery of the reinforcer that follows the behavior.

Example:

A child hits her mom. By yelling “Stop hitting me!” the mom is unintentionally reinforcing her child’s behavior. Because the child is receiving the reinforcement, he/she will engage in that problem behavior more often. To decrease this problem behavior, the mom must stop the delivery of the reinforcer – yelling “Stop hitting me!”

 

In ordrer for extinction to take place, two things must occur:

  1. The delivery of the reinforcer must stop.
  2. The undesired behavior must decrease.

Extinction is a gradual process. Often, when extinction is first applied, the undesired behavior will increase before decreasing. This is called an extinction burst. This occurs because a child will attempt to exhaust familiar inappropriate behaviors to get what they want before adapting to the appropriate behavior.

 

To learn more about how to address problem behavior, go here

 

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