A diagnosis of Conduct disorder is given when the following characteristics are exhibited frequently:
- Aggression towards people and animals
- Property destruction
- Antisocial behaviour, e.g. theft and rule violations.
A diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is characterized by:
- Problems with anger
- Frequent non-compliance with rules
- Misattribution of blame towards others.
Of course, many of these behaviours are observed at time, in all children, or indeed any individual. The following tips may therefore, be helpful for a variety of individuals.
Tip 1. Assessing the function of a behaviour
A necessary starting point is to understand the reason for the behaviour. We can do this by looking at what the person ‘gets’ out of the behaviour. For example, are they attempting to avoid or terminate an undesirable activity, to elicit attention or care from peers or others, are they attempting to access an activity or item, or are they attempting to entertain or amuse themselves. This may also highlight skills that they lack.
Tip 2. Teaching new skills
Once we know the reason for this behaviour, we can work to identify alternative behaviours and skills to teach the child in order to achieve the same outcome, in a prosocial way. For example, teaching social skills to initiate conversation, teaching to request breaks, to tolerate undesirable activities, maintain concentration, or using timers to assist children to learn how to wait and understand time. There are lots of ways to teach these new skills. However, modeling and role-playing of skills have been found to be most effective for children with the above difficulties.
Additionally, when you know the function of a behavior you can then arrange the environment so that the desired outcome occurs before the behavior happens. This eliminates the need for them to engage in the behavior. For example, if we know that Timmy will throw his book when he has sat at the table doing his homework for a long period of time, we can make sure that we schedule frequent breaks to reduce the chances of him becoming tired.
Tip 3. Pinpointing and praising specific behaviours
Often it is easy to get caught up in focusing on reducing undesirable behaviours. Differential reinforcement is a method of praising and reinforcing positive behaviours that are opposite, alternative or incompatible with the problem behaviours. For example, reading their book instead of throwing it, initiating a conversation instead of shouting in order to elicit a response from others, or walking calmly along the supermarket aisle instead of throwing
themselves on the ground shouting for sweets. By praising and noticing these behaviours, we are highlighting the behaviours that are prosocial and increasing the likelihood of these behaviours happening again, which reducing the need for the undesirable behavior to occur. For example, no longer being given a break for shouting, but being given breaks when they politely ask.
Tip 4. The Good Behaviour Game
The Good Behaviour game fosters collaboration between teachers and parents, and promotes prosocial alliances between peers at school. This works by asking students to select appropriate and inappropriate behaviours for the classroom. The teacher then divides the classroom into two groups. If any member of a group engages in the identified inappropriate behaviours a point is given to the team. The team that has 3 or fewer points at the end of the day receives a selected reward.
Tip 5. Building behavioural momentum
In order to increase the likelihood of desired behaviour that is less likely to occur, first the child is given a series of easier tasks that s/he is guaranteed to succeed in. By interspersing easy and difficult tasks, the child’s confidence in their own abilities is increased and they are provided with many opportunities for success. This makes it more likely that they will attempt the more difficult tasks requested of them, can increase adherence to rules and decrease inappropriate behaviours, while also building self-esteem and making tasks more enjoyable.