Fort Myers ABA therapy

FOCUS ABA Therapy Tips to Tackle Problem Behaviors

All parents struggle with problem behaviors with their children at some point. This is especially true for families with children diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, behavior challenges or related disorders. FOCUS ABA therapy promotes “expected behaviors” (and discourages “unexpected behaviors”) through consistent, positive reinforcement over a period of months or years. These methods are most effective when we have consistent parent carryover of our strategies.

We understand that lack of compliance, transition trouble and meltdowns can be incredibly frustrating for parents. Although we work on self-regulation and other skills in behavior sessions, our Fort Myers ABA therapy team have some helpful tips for how to handle these situations at home to reduce unexpected behaviors and increase positive behaviors.

The Premack Principle

We’re fans of proactive, preventative strategies because we understand that it’s often SO much easier to head off challenging behaviors before they happen, as opposed to dealing with the fallout after the fact.

The Premack Principle is a behavior therapy tool named for David Premack, the psychologist who developed it. The idea is to set an expectation that before a child can access a highly-preferred activity, they must complete a non-preferred (or lesser-preferred) activity first.

In the simplest terms, it’s the “First-Then” approach.

Here’s an example:

  • Andrea runs away when asked to take a bath.
  • Andrea loves to play hide-and-seek before bed.

Parents can use the Premack Principle by saying to Andrea, “First, we take a bath. Then, we play hide-and-seek!”

The idea behind this evidence-based approach is that kids are more motivated to engaged in non-preferred tasks when they know it’s going to be followed by an activity or thing they really want. If there is a problem behavior that is always the source of protests and requires tons of prompting, this is a good strategy to apply before.

Pro-Tip: Avoid using this strategy AFTER you’ve already told your child to take a bath and she’s run out of the room. The expectation of first-then should be set before the “unexpected” or problem behavior to serve as a prevention. Otherwise, you might end up unintentionally reinforcing problem behaviors by giving the child an “out” when they behave in a way that’s unexpected. This is why in ABA therapy, we study the “ABCs”: Antecedent (what happens before), Behavior (what the behavior is) and Consequence (what happens immediately after).

Behavior Momentum Strategy

The Behavior Momentum compliance strategy was first developed in 1999 and has proven effective for many kids. It’s similar to the Premack Principle, but slightly different.

Behavior moment begins with making several demands/prompts with which your child is very likely to comply and then immediately after introducing demands/prompts with which your child is less likely to comply. Essentially, you build up their tolerance for the tougher tasks because you have gained momentum with the earlier tasks.

Let’s say the non-preferred task is cleaning up toys. The preferred activity is making silly faces. Here’s how it would go:

  • “Hey, Jamar!” (Jamar looks up at you.) “Nice looking! Give me a high 5!” “Make a super silly face!” “Now let’s clean up our toys!” 


  • Use demands, not questions. (“Sit down please,” not, “Do you want to stop jumping?”)
  • Make sure you’re physically close and, if possible, using eye contact.
  • Wait for your child to give you their attention before making your demand.
  • Use language that is clear and concise.

ABA Therapy Token Boards

ABA therapy token boards can be a really effective tool to use at home to increase positive behaviors and decrease problem behaviors. These are a type of visual reinforcement that helps track target/expected behaviors (those that you want to increase). It’s basically a visual point system that can later be cashed in for some predetermined reward.

You can make your own board, and there are all kinds of resources online, but our ABA therapy team at FOCUS can help too.


  • Make the board – and the reward – tailored to your child’s interests, whether that’s trains or Disney characters, etc. Give your child the choice before you create it.
  • Make sure you have clear rules for which behavior(s) earn a token – and how many must be reinforced.
  • Give the reinforcement/reward immediately once the token board is completed.

If you have questions or need additional insight, our FOCUS ABA therapists are happy to help!

FOCUS offers ABA therapy to children in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Premack Principle, 2013 Edition, Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders

More Blog Entries:

Fort Myers ABA Therapy Helps Target Toilet Training, April 27, 2018, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog

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