The overall purpose of behavior management is to assist young children in displaying behaviors that are conducive to learning and to teach social behaviors that are appropriate for home and school settings. In effective adult-child interactions, the children’s behavior is recognized, interpreted in context, and responded to contingently (Sandall, Hemmeter, Smith, & McLean, 2005). According to Walker (1997), there are at least five principles of behavior management that professionals should follow:

  1. Negative consequences sometimes change behavior, but they do not change attitude.  Negative consequences, such as time-out, restriction of privileges, verbal correction, and physical punishment, will effect at least a temporary behavior change. However, unless used in combination with powerful positive reinforcement strategies, they will worsen the negative attitudes that underlie the misbehavior and increase the likelihood of subsequent misbehavior.
  2. Only positive reinforcement strategies produce long-term attitudinal change.  Children decide to behave appropriately because they are influenced by the consequences of their appropriate behavior (Sandall et al., 2005), not because they are forced into it. The consequences of children’s behavior must be clearly structured so the complexity of their appropriate behavior is increased (Sandall et al., 2005).
  3. Negative consequences do not improve the behavior of impulsive children and frequently increase the frequency and intensity of their misbehavior.
  4. Cognitive control of behavior can be learned through the use of appropriate positive reinforcement systems.
  5. Positive reinforcement systems must be incremental in nature so that children can directly observe even small improvements in their behavior.  Well-designed positive reinforcement systems rely on incremental rewards where the range of reinforcement varies from no reinforcement to intense reinforcement so children can witness, in a tangible way, relative levels of progress.

Sound behavior management programs should be designed to prevent the occurrence of problem behavior, to deal directly with problem behavior when it occurs, and to assist families in dealing with problem behavior at home (Wolery & Fleming, 1992).