078 – Chapter 8 – Part 4

Review Progress and Adjust Your Program (continued)

Respond to Faltering Progress

As you look over each of the items in your child’s program (as illustrated above), note any items that seem not to be responding as well as expected or not as well as other items. Anywhere progress seems unduly slow, review how your set up fits with the principles laid out from the beginning, including that each item was written to meet the three basic characteristics of well-worded target behaviors. 

1.        Check each under-performing item to be sure each is realistically reachable, considering what you know about your child. Items showing little or no progress may be too demanding even if you know your child is capable and you have seen the behavior happen. While sheer ability is important, it is also important to consider the past reactions and feelings about the behavior to assure the standards are set at a level for the child to succeed a third or more of the time. 

For any item that might not be set at a realistic level, consider breaking it into parts and assign credits to each part. Remember to praise success for each item as it occurs. As an example, an item may state that:

Jada, you are successful when you are up, dressed, and down for breakfast by 7:30 a.m.

For some children who get most of the steps right without help, this item may be a very useful, prompting them to focus just a bit more and to get everything done on time. But it may be too much for a child who seems to struggle to get up and who eventually appears at the table partially dressed. In such a situation, it might be more constructive to break the item into two or more parts, for example:

Jada, you are successful when you are up by 7:10 a.m.

Jada, you are successful when you are completely dressed and down for breakfast by 7:30 a.m.

While at first Jada may not complete both items successfully, she may be able to do one and, with reinforcement, build on her compliance to complete the second item, improving her chances of overall success. 

2.        For each item that appears realistically reachable but still shows little or no progress, make sure that it is worded in positive terms, that is, focused on what you do want your child to do, not on what your child should not do. If you discover the words “no” or “not” or “don’t,” rewrite those items, focusing on the behavior you would like to see that is also directly incompatible with the behavior you’d like to stop. 

Even if you find no clearly negative words in the items of concern, look for the insidious word “without,” for examples, “without sassing” or “without whining” or “without reminders.” Such phrases introduce a negative tone by drawing attention to the very behaviors you are trying to eliminate, and we know that attention itself can be very reinforcing. Reword any such items. For example substitute:

. . .in a respectful way. . . for . . .without sassing. . .,

. . .in your ten-year-old voice. . . for . . .without whining. . ., and

. . .on your own. . . for . . .without reminders. . .

Note that even using the word “if” for “when” in the phrase “You are successful. . .” can introduce a negative component. “If” suggests doubt that the child will succeed, whereas “when” shows a clear expectation that the child will succeed, if not now, then later. When we have constructed the program correctly, the child will succeed.

By going over the first two steps, you will have made sure that all items are realistically reachable for your child and that the target items are positively focused on what you expect your child to do. 

3.        Review each item of concern again to assess whether the criteria of success are as clear as possible. Phrases such as “is good at” or “behaves” provide little clarity for a child. They also offer a child working to gain some sense of control an opportunity to challenge the parents by doing the minimum implied by the vague statement. 

Many parents are confident that “My child knows exactly what she is supposed to do,” only to discover that what was so clear to them was not at all clear to the child. Often it turns out that even the two parents don’t have exactly the same expectations, something recognized only while defining them for their program. Such vagueness can confuse a child but also can allow one to exploit parental inconsistencies. Clearly stating expectations in this program is one aspect that makes it so effective.

As noted earlier, it can be especially challenging to define clear expectations in a school extension of your program. A busy teacher may prefer very general statements of expectations, leaving your child uncertain how to succeed. Be sure to check any school items for clarity.

If you wonder how clear your statements are, ask your child to explain the standard of success for each. Rewrite any that your child can’t explain clearly and then explain it again to your child, asking the child to repeat it again. If you have items that don’t lend themselves completely to defined standards (e.g., “gets along with”), be sure that you handle the dilemma consistently and in a manner that avoids tug-of-wars with your child as described in Chapter 3.

These three steps are designed to help you consider carefully any items in your program that are not showing good progress. Once you have identified needed modifications, rework the relevant items to assure that they are realistically reachable, positive, and clear. That reworking will allow you to continue working day by day, week by week to support your child in assuming ever-greater levels of responsible behavior.

Now that you have completed the assessment using your chart and have made appropriate changes to enhance program effectiveness, you are ready to move on to handling those items that are doing well.


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