In order to be successful at eliminating any behavior, you have to have a plan … for the extinction burst.
I was asked by a mom for help the other day. Her son, who is special needs, demands that she buy him a video game pretty much every day. And when she refuses, he throws a fit. She can’t afford to keep doing this but … she gives in every time because his fits become violent.
I told her she needed a plan. Her son’s fits of anger are classic extinction bursts. And they work. His mom gives in and gets him what he wants. The only way to stop this addiction to buying video games daily is for his mom to stop buying him video games.
There is no way out of this dilemma except for her to ride out the extinction burst. Here’s the good news, she knows he’s going to throw a fit. What she was hoping for was a way to get it to stop without having to endure his extinction burst. But it doesn’t work like that. There is no way around the extinction burst, you just have to let them blow out until they give up!
And to do that, you have to have a plan. You have to have a single phrase to say to not reward them. In this case – no. I’m not buying a video game. No negotiations. This is a statement of fact. Repeat it as necessary until it sinks in.
If you know someone yells when they don’t get their way, have a plan on what to do so they can yell without upsetting you. Tell them to go to their room. Calmly. Not a big deal – they are allowed to yell – but they should do so where they don’t disturb others.
If you know they make threats, have a plan for what you are going to say or do if they threaten you. If you do that – I will do this. And if they do – make good on the consequence. So – if they threaten to throw something at you – tell them anything they throw – will be taken away from them permanently – and if they do – which they probably will – take it away – permanently.
If they hit or throw things or try to destroy things – pre-emptively take things away so that they can’t really do much damage. For instance – it might be a good idea to put the tv in another room before you trigger a violent extinction burst. What can you give them to throw that won’t hurt anything or themselves. How can you remove yourself from the situation that they don’t hurt you. Again, since you know it’s going to happen, plan for it! Then, trigger the extinction burst and ride it out!
The same holds true when you are dealing with a bully. When you stop rewarding a bully by not allowing them to get their way- you trigger an extinction burst. If you know this in advance, which you do now since you are reading this, you can plan for that extinction burst, in advance and know what you are going to do if – they escalate or threaten or do whatever else they do when they don’t get their way. And, having planned for it – you trigger the extinction burst, put your plan into motion and wait for the bully to blow out and stop.
Always remember, bullies are predictable and this makes planning for them easier.