Social Reciprocity: A Positive Method For Reducing Challenging Behaviors

A father emailed me, “I get so mad at my boy that I sometimes become spiteful: I tell him I’m going to put him up for adoption if he doesn’t behave.  It makes him cry.  I know he can’t help his behaviors at times because of his autism and I don’t know why I say what I say.  Can you help me find a better way to prevent this from happening again?”

If I’m being honest with you then I’d have to admit that I know what it feels like to be so angry that you say something that you later regret.  My home used to feel like a battleground!  You know as well as I do that if you’re not careful it’s easy to let negative emotions get the best of you.  As seen in the example above, negative emotions tend to produce negative behaviors that are usually designed to punish someone as a means to decrease unwanted behaviors.  Punishment, unfortunately does not nurture or strengthen relationships!  It’s my belief that managing challenging behaviors can be accomplished in a way that not only minimizes unwanted behaviors but also strengthens relationships in the process!

Our goal as parents of children who “act out” is to bring a nurturing spirit into the parent-child relationship…one that is characterized by genuine warmth, mutual respect, and unconditional worth.  In order to facilitate these relational characteristics it is essential to maximize the use of Positive Support Strategies rather than punishment.

The law of positive social reciprocity is a time-tested, research-based relational principle that has been used in the fields of crisis management and marital therapy to strengthen relationships and reduce destructive conflict.  There is too much research to support the effectiveness of this principle to ignore!

I have successfully used this principle to de-escalate crisis behaviors with my own boys who are on the moderate-severe end of the autism spectrum, students with developmental disabilities that I have worked with, and adult-aged clients in residential settings.  If you are seriously interested in effective and positive methods to reduce crisis behaviors then it’s essential that you understand and apply the concept of social reciprocity!

Why use more intrusive or aversive methods of behavior management when there is a better way at your disposal?  Like me, I’m certain that you want to provide the best quality of life that you can for the one that you love.  If you are interested in developing and/or maintaining a positive relationship with your care-receiver then it’s important to refrain from using negative behavior management strategies such as punishment or restraint.

4 advantages of applying positive social reciprocity are:

  1. positive social reciprocity can be used effectively with children with special needs.
  2. positive social reciprocity can be used during each phase of the Relational Crisis Prevention Road Map.
  3. positive social reciprocity strengthens relationships.
  4. positive social reciprocity is a fairly easy Positive Support Strategy to implement.

Put the concept of positive social reciprocity to the test!  Take a few minutes to listen to the podcast.  You have nothing to lose.  You can listen to the podcast here.

Oh, and don’t forget to click “like” on our Special Friends Ministry facebook page to be notified when the next post is published!  Michael Woods M.A. BCaBA CPI

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods


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