If you’re a parent and your child works with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, (BCBA) you are probably familiar with their recommendations of interventions based off of extensive research and principles.


But what if the suggested intervention makes your child’s behavior worse?


It could be likely that your child is experiencing what is known as an extinction burst.


What is an extinction burst?


An extinction burst is “an increase in the rate of responding when reinforcing consequences are withheld after the occurrence of the target behavior.” In other words, things tend to get worse before getting better.


How is this possible?


Well, the best way to explain is through an example. Say your child yelled and screamed every time she wanted a cookie. Once you give your daughter a cookie, she is quiet.


But do you want to reward her with a cookie every time she screams for one?


Probably not. Instead, you could teach your child replacement behavior. Instead of giving her a cookie when she yells, only give her a cookie when she asks for it calmly. But your daughter, used to getting a cookie by screaming, will think she just has to scream louder until you eventually cave and reward her with the cookie.


Should you cave into the intensified screaming behavior and reward her with a cookie?


No, stay strong! If you resist and remain patient through the loud screaming, your daughter will learn that the screaming and yelling will no longer result in a cookie. By stopping the reinforcing behavior (giving your daughter a cookie) she will first scream louder and louder (extinction burst). Then, she will realize that the only way she will get a cookie is if she asks nicely for it. Addressing the problem behavior and replacing it with appropriate behavior, like asking nicely, will be worth it!


What if an extinction burst causes my child to become more aggressive?


If you feel unsafe or the problem behavior is intolerable, remember to talk to your behavior analyst. Let them know what is and is not working for your family so you can create a successful plan together!