I have a child on my caseload who immediately acts out when he is praised for good behavior. How do you handle a child who responds negatively to positive reinforcement of positive behavior?
I worked in a county school that was made up of students who had been referred by their school system. The students, ranging in age from 6-16 years old, had either had confrontations with the law or came from very troubled homes. Their home schools felt that they could not educate the children so they came to this center. Oftentimes we saw that when the children were praised for good behavior, they would respond negatively. Consulting with your mental health colleagues would be very important in this type of situation. To me, this speaks to a child who does not see himself or herself as valuable or worthy of praise for acceptable behavior. We want to understand why a child would get to that point so that you can build a more trusting environment for that child. It really is about poor self-esteem. Again, connect with your colleagues on how you can provide a safe environment with adults they can trust for giving legitimate praise. Too often we say, “Awesome. Great job. Blah, blah, blah,” and the kids are going, “Okay that was nothing. You are overreacting.” Children are sensitive to legitimate praise. Evaluate whether you are giving legitimate praise and try to understand if the child needs support by networking with your colleagues or mental health colleagues.
Dr. Buschbacher is the owner and director of PPATCHWork Children’s Therapy Services in Florida. She is a nationally and state certified speech-language pathologist and holds a doctorate in Special Education, with emphases on early childhood development and behavior disorders.