The earth’s core is made of magma. The dirt, trees, and rocks that we live on are sitting on the top of plates that float on the magma. These plates are called tectonic. When two tectonic plates push against each other they do so with great force. They cannot go around each other, so they keep pushing until the weaker of the two eventually slips. The plate that is steady and consistent in its pressure will stand firm. The plate that is not consistent and firm will become crumpled or smashed. This is how mountains are formed.
Behavior scientists have what they call an extinction burst. An extinction burst, is a burst of negative behavior that occurs before the behavior is extinguished. This means that if the rules of engagement with a child are suddenly changed, the child will increase yelling or tantrums in order to change the rules back to the way that he understands them to be. This extinction burst will occur every time the parent attempts to extinguish the behavior. Like the tectonic plates, the parent and the child will push against each other with great force, the one that is firm and consistent will stand, and the other will slip and crumple. It the parent stands firm, the child’s negative behavior will significantly decrease. Smaller and smaller bursts of negative behavior will occur at farther and farther intervals from each other.
Sarah decided that little Sam’s whining had to stop. He was now five years old and would be going into Kindergarten. Sam whined every time he wanted something. He would start off in a quiet whimper, and then steadily increase in pitch and noise until he was given what he wanted. Sarah knew that his whining would earn him a bad label with his teacher. She worried that the label may stay with him throughout elementary school.
Sarah wanted to help Sam stop whining. She started off with using time out as a consequence. Time out worked for about three days and then Sam started to get worse. As soon as Sarah put him in time out, he would get even louder than before. Sarah reasoned that time out must not work for Sam, so she stopped using it.
Sarah then tried using spanking. This worked for about 5 days until he did not seem to care about the spanking anymore. He would simply become louder than ever before and then he would start hitting the wall and breaking things. As soon as Sam started getting worse, Sarah stopped spanking. She was perplexed. She did not know what to do. Nothing seemed to work.
Sarah went to a therapist who explained that what she was doing was working. The therapist explained that Sam’s increase in bad behavior was an indication that the consequences were working. The therapist explained that if Sarah remained firm in the rule and consequence and outlasted Sam’s increase in whiny behavior, Sam would eventually quit. Sarah simply had to outlast Sam. Sarah also learned that she had to be extremely firm and never, ever, skip out on giving the consequence.
Sarah went back home to try again. She decided to combine the time out and the spanking. She told Sam that he was to go to time out until he quit whining. If Sam escalated to yelling or aggression he would also get a spanking. Sam would also get a spanking if he left time out early.
After informing Sam of the rules, Sarah went to work on enforcing them. The next two days were very difficult. Sarah did not get much work done around the house because she spent the entire time putting Sam in time out, over and over again. She repeatedly had to spank Sam for reaching the threshold of yelling. Once, she had to spank him for kicking the wall. On the third day, things got really bad. Sam yelled so loud that her neighbors complained. He also broke her vase and kicked a hole in the wall. Sarah was so mad that she wanted to go to her room and close the door. She wanted to give up, but decided that this time it was Sam’s turn to quit. Sarah held her ground. Sam spent the entire morning repeatedly going to time out and getting spankings for aggression. By evening time, they were both worn out and went to bed early.
On the fourth day, Sam gave Sarah a big hug and told her that he was going to be good today. Sam went most of the day without whining. He had to take a couple of time outs for whining. Sarah called them “reminders,” but the time outs ended quickly since Sam did his best to remain calm. As school drew closer, Sam’s habit of whining became less and less frequent. Sarah stayed perfectly firm and never missed a consequence for even the slightest whimper. Sam had learned that he could not outlast Sarah. Sarah knew that she could stand firm, no matter what Sam gave her.