A Failed Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

The behavior plan. It’s a personalized playbook for parents. Like a football coach, your playbook has a detailed plan for success. It provides an offensive and defensive plan of attack. What if plan A fails? Worry not, there’s a plan B.

But just like a football coach you won’t win every time.

As a BCBA parents often tell me how their behavior plan worked for a little while, but then just stopped working. “It just doesn’t seem to be working anymore,” they often say.

It’s my job to try to uncover why these things “fail” so that I can help develop the next plan and get the parents back on the road to success. After creating so many plans then reworking and redesigning them I’ve started to see a pattern. Based on my experiences these are the three reasons behavior plans tend to fail:

  1. Too difficult to maintain / Inconsistency

Parents always go into a behavior plan extremely motivated. They have reached their limits and are so worn-out by the multitude of behaviors they deal with every day that they decide to do something different for a change. So motivated these parents are, that they are unrealistic about what they will be able to consistently maintain over time. Unfortunately, once the novelty wears off for the parents, so too does the consistency and attention given to the plan.

When it comes time for you, the parent, to start executing a behavior plan, be honest and upfront about how much effort it would take for you to consistently implement the rules. Run different “what-if” scenarios in your head. Simplify what you can. Make a concrete decision to implement your plan for at least 1 month. Do not allow yourself to give up earlier than the time table you have set. Things will get rough in the beginning, the dreaded extinction burst tends to dissuade parents from pushing onward. Just remember there is no miracle pill, all good things take time.

  1. Rules are not clear enough

Too many times, parents set themselves and their children up for failure by establishing rules that are not defined in clear, understandable terms. This is a mistake. Rules are often too subjective, too flimsy, and to imprecise. Having these grey areas in your rules will lead to the failure of your behavior plan.

As a BCBA, I need to define behaviors in a clear, and concise manner. If I handed this definition to some random person, they should be able to read it and understand exactly what the behavior is and what it looks like. Your rules need to be established with that same mindset. Be as specific as possible (there’s no such thing as to specific), write them down for all to see, and make them crystal clear to everyone in the household. Avoid subjective statements like, “When I say it’s clean,” “if you are well behaved,” or “when I decide you’re done.” Instead, state the exact expectations (“when I say it’s clean” = “all the toys put away and your clothes picked up”). Specific rules will help avoid focusing on too much and keep things simple.

  1. Rewards aren’t rewarding anymore

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a parent tell me that their child’s reinforcer is no longer rewarding….

We all have different things that motivate us one way or the other. BUT, those things change and differ across people and time. I love Italian food, but I don’t want it every day. Maybe you love classic rock music, but every once and a while you switch over to the top 40 radio station. Recognize that as desires are met, the motivation to attain those desired things decreases. Keep things interesting, vary what your child is working for every day, week, or month. Provide them with a list of rewards and let them choose. Once they choose one reward they can’t pick it again until they have gone through the remaining rewards on the list. Be spontaneous and allow your child to choose something new that they have never asked for. The idea is to keep things fresh, keep them interested, and most importantly keep them motivated.

Focus on these things and hopefully your behavior plan will have a little more power and lifespan for you and your children.

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