Posts Tagged ‘aggression’

Here at Applied Behavioral Strategies, we try to review a research article on a hot topic for our readers. Because a timeout room procedure in Connecticut has received quite a bit of attention lately, it seems timely to review another study about timeout.

Christine Readdick and Paula Chapman authored the article called, Young Children’s Perceptions of Timeout. The Journal of Research in Childhood Education in 2000. If you want to read the article yourself, you may find it here.


Because timeout has been such a widely used procedures in both homes and classrooms, and because researchers have never paused to ask children how they felt about being placed in timeout, the authors hoped to learn how children understood timeout. They stated that the specific study purpose was to learn how young children felt about being placed in timeout and if they understood why they were placed in timeout.


The authors studied 42 young children ages 2, 3, and 4 years old who attended child care centers that were willing to be included in the study. Parents consented in writing for their children to participate in the study.


Immediately following a timeout, the researchers interviewed the child asking a series of 17 pre-determined questions. These questions included things like:

  • do you like school?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel lonely?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel sad?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel that the teacher disliked you?
  • when you are in timeout do you feel that you dislike timeout?
  • do you think you need to be in timeout?

More children reported feeling alone, yet safe while in timeout. More children also reported that they disliked (rather than liking) timeout. Sadly, more children also reported feeling that their peers did not like them when they were in timeout.

More children than not could identify what they were doing that led to timeout (e.g., I wasn’t playing the right way). More children reported being in timeout “a little” rather than “a lot”. Most children reported that an adult told them why they were in timeout. Interestingly, most children also indicated that they deserved to be in timeout.

Teachers placed most children in timeout for being non-compliant (N=27). Sixteen children were placed in timeout for aggression.

When the authors compared the answers between children who were placed in timeout “a little” to those of children who were placed in timeout “a lot”, the authors noticed that their negative feelings were more intensified (e.g., more alone, more sad, more disliked by friends).

Interestingly, only about 50% of the children correctly identified the reason for being placed in timeout. Observers recorded behaviors prior to timeout and those records were used to verify if children’s responses were correct.


The authors noted that timeout, in this study, was being used for minor offenses (e.g., non-compliance in most cases) and that timeout should be reserved for the most severe and dangerous behaviors.

We want to hear from readers. For those of you that have verbal children, have they shared their thoughts about timeout? Are your children being placed in timeout for minor offenses?

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Hi and welcome to “What Works Wednesdays” where we share a success story from one of our clinical cases. All names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the child and family. Our intent is to show readers how successful ABA can be.

Today’s story is about a neurotypical little girl named Sophie who was 8 years old at the time we treated her. Sophie had long blonde hair and big blue eyes. She had a heart warming smile that could make you melt. She could also throw a punch better than Mike Tyson. Yes, sweet little Sophie had aggression and that was why we were brought in to help.

Sophie was much like any other child her age. She was not interested in boys, desperately wanted to have friends, and she loved her stuff–and wow did she have a lot of stuff! She had an iPhone, jewelry, and endless art supplies. She also had a doll collection–many of them unopened. She also owned had a stuffed animal collection that could make a Carnie envious.

The good news was that Sophie did not engage in aggression to children at school. Sadly, her sister was the recipient of all that anger. At times, Sophie would threaten to hurt her baby brother but she never followed through on those threats.

Our first step in treating aggression was to determine why the aggression was occurring in the first place. We had a difficult time figuring Sophie out. At times it seemed as if she was hitting to get attention. However, at other times, it seemed as if she was simply taking out her frustration.

After the assessment was completed, we developed a plan to address the behavior. The plan consisted of strategies to prevent behavior from occurring in the future. The plan also included instructional strategies to teach replacement behaviors. Finally, the plan included strategies for reacting or responding to behaviors.

Preventing Behavior (Also Known as Proactive or Antecedent Strategies)

We taught Sophie’s parents to provide Sophie with attention when she engaged in positive interactions with her sister. We also taught them to give her high quality attention when she was being good. We know that this sounds rather simplistic but the research supporting these strategies is unsurpassed. The research also shows that these strategies are rarely used by parents. So we listed some specific positive behaviors for them to be on the watch for and we taught them specific things to say and do when they saw Sophie engage in those behaviors.

Replacement Behaviors

Next, we taught Sophie some strategies to use instead of aggression.

  1. We taught her to get help from an adult when she became frustrated with her sister
  2. We taught her to use her words instead of hitting (e.g., “Sister Suzie, please stop bouncing on the couch.”)
  3. We taught her to walk away if her sister was getting her agitated.

Reactions and Responses to Aggressive Behavior

Even when the preventive strategies and the replacement behaviors are being used, aggression could still occur. Thus, Sophie’s parents needed to have a plan about how to respond when aggression occurred.

First, we taught the parents to avoid providing unnecessary attention when Sophie engaged in aggression. We taught the parents to, instead, provide attention to sister Suzie who was the recipient of the aggression.

Next we asked the parents to have a planned consequence for behavior. They selected time-out. This is an easy strategy to use because it can be implemented anywhere at any time. The other advantage to this strategy is that the parents could direct Sophie to time out without giving her too much attention.

We stressed the importance of telling children about plan before they are implemented. So, Sophie’s parents informed her that she needed to use other strategies instead of hitting. They told her that if she chose to hit instead of using one of the strategies, that she would be placed in time out for 5 minutes.

Is it Working?

The next step was to set up a process for determining if the plan was working.This is important because if a plan is not working, it is necessary to make revisions to the plan. Generally, behavior will respond within the first 4-6 weeks if the plan is appropriate.

We simply asked Sophie’s parents to count how many times the behavior happened each week. Unfortunately, after 6 weeks, there was no change in Sophie’s hitting. After discussing possible alternatives with them, we opted for a different consequence. Each time Sophie hit, she lost one of her stuffed animals. This is called response cost. Many parents want to allow their children to earn back lost privileges.  Sadly, this is an ineffective strategy and only teaches the child that they will ultimately get the toy back. We made a plan for the lost animal to be donated to Good Will for children who do not have good toys.

The parents explained to Sophie how they were going to change the consequences for her hitting. To date, Sophie has only lost 3 stuffed animals with the last incident occurring over one year ago.

Congratulations Sophie on learning how to use your other strategies instead of hitting. Congratulations to your parents for effectively implementing the plan!

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from parents who are having difficulty with their child’s behavior. Today’s question comes from Amanda, who writes:

“Is there a specific protocol that should be used to decrease hitting and pinching in general?

My biggest concern related to hitting and pinching is how to keep everyone safe in the car. Occasionally my son will hit the driver. Is there some sort of adult sized 5 point harness that can be used so my nephew can’t reach the driver? Or some method of child-proofing the buckle so that it must be unfastened by someone else? (Like a toddler seat, only my son is bigger than me!)

Any advice you can give for car rides would be greatly appreciated!”

Amanda this is a fantastic question (or 2 or 3 questions in one!). You are not the first person to ask me about safety while riding in the car.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a standard protocol for hitting, pinching, or any other behavior. We respond to behavior based on its function or purpose. My first question would be “why is your son hitting on pinching?” My guess, based on the information you have provided, is that he is hitting for attention. Right? The driver is busy and not attending to the child, the child hits, and attention comes almost immediately.

Sooooooo, make sure you and whoever is driving refrains from giving him attention when he hits you while driving. You also want to make sure you give him lots of attention for good behavior while driving. You can also comment on things you see or use music to distract him.

Safety is a completely separate issue. All children should be safely secured in a moving vehicle.  If he is coming out of the seatbelt, then you may want to consider a different type of car restraint. However, if he is bigger than the adult, the options are limited. I would try to teach him to stay in the seat belt rather than use a harness. This could take some time. If he really likes car rides, you could pull the car over and stop temporarily for any violation (hitting or getting out of the seat belt). If he doesn’t like car rides, that intervention will not work and a different strategy will need to be used.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

If you have a behavior or situation that you need assistance on, please email me at askmissy at applied behavioral strategies dot-com. Thank you!

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