Leading and Caring for Children

Change Antecedents

Before the child has any chance to make a mistake, we can do some fancy things.

Time to review where we are with schematics. Here is the A-B-C of the protocol.


Below is the schematic that represents the topics we have addressed so far.


We have addressed new consequence choices to follow the undesired behavior and we created a block below that for the entry of a desirable behavior to reward and support its emergence. Now we address that remaining empty block — Change the Antecedents. When we’ve got all five blocks filled we have defined a program.

At this point we have two things going. If the child does that bad thing, then you do this. If the child does that good thing, then you do that. We are waiting and watching for the time to pounce. The empty Antecedents box offers the opportunity to address something much deeper in our work, — the creation of opportunities and environmental changes — which are, to my mind, game changers, ways to be proactive and wise.

Teach New Skills

If one thinks about it, there might be something one can teach associated with the problem behavior.


No matter what you might choose to teach, you are scheduling regular positive time with this child, doing something you both like to do. That’s the best way for people to connect and establish friendships. Maybe, just maybe, the child won’t have a reason to be troubling anymore.

Take Extra Effort To Reward Others

All the children that are not running in the classroom get a thumbs up.

All the children who are sitting in the circle are recognized by name.

Everyone who have had their feet on the floor gets a ticket to go for a walk around the school.

Offer a New Timely Cue

This is the art of excellence in leadership.

“One more turn for everybody and then we will go inside.”
“Remember to whisper if you want to talk while we are walking in the halls.”
“Remember that if you find yourself getting angry, you can always take a break.”
“I’m right here today, if you ever need me.”
“One of the easy to remember things to say is ‘STOP!'”

Set the Stage

This challenge is to think of things to change in the environment or the schedule that will make problems less likely to occur. The biggest of these is to have more intriguing, enjoyable activities, especially for the child one is concerned about. Eat earlier in the day. Schedule lots of physical exercise first thing in the day. Re-arrange the room so it is less conducive to trouble.

longbill-ballcapI heard of a teacher who gave a biting child a long-billed cap to wear. When the child moved his head close to bite, the bill stopped him.

Not allowing the child a chance to make a mistake is, in itself, a mistake. It goes too far to think one can prevent the problem by not allowing the child the opportunity.
A child with a food problem only gets his favorite food.
A child gets up from the table now wears a seatbelt to fasten him down to his chair.
A child who gets into fights with other children in the neighborhood now has to stay indoors.
These, of course, are like putting people in jail and offering them nothing that resolves the underlying problem.

Contract for Non-occurence

Last but not least we can make a contract with the child something like this: “If you don’t do _______ for this specific time period, then I offer you this reward.” I have found the Contract for Non-occurence to be the most powerful technique I have ever found for the truly difficult behavior problems.

It always has a “not” in the contract. The reward is for not doing something. I have a few examples to share.


supermarketSomewhere in the pages above I mentioned the “supermarket ploy”, where the child acts up at the store and gets the offer of a treat to be quiet. That way offers a contract as a consequence to acting up, so it supports the acting up — the child would not have had the sweet deal without first being a problem. In contrast, the Contract for Non-occurrence shifts the deal to an antecedent before anything untoward happens. Before entering the store the parent might say, “We are going to have a good time shopping today. If you don’t make a scene, disrupt the food displays, or run off, I will get you a treat at the end. I like it best when we both have fun, so I’ll get a treat for me, too.”

Spitting on the driver

shipcanalI’d like to return to Dennis, whom I mentioned before. He created an unfortunate “game” with the bus driver. Seattle’s I-5 Interstate highway crosses the ship canal on a long, heavily trafficked bridge. As his bus crossed the bridge Dennis would run to the front of the bus and spit on the back of the driver’s neck. The only way we knew how to deal with this problem was to offer him a reward for not spitting on the bus. His reward, after an adult checked with the driver for his OK, was to spin him in a circle by his arms, which we called an “airplane ride.” He enjoyed the vestibular experience much more than making trouble on the bus.

Hurting, climbing on furniture, messing with other children’s work

markMark did all those things and more, and indication to me of his creative talent. We decided to start with the worst of these, hurting, and use a Contract for Non-occurrence. Fifteen minutes before the end of school I called Mark aside and told him that if he didn’t hurt anyone from now until the end of school, I would give him a piggy-back ride outside before his nanny arrived. I guess it appealed to him, because he didn’t hurt anyone in those last 15 minutes. I bet he was surprised by the ride he got because I didn’t walk — I ran — and he could use my ears to steer me wherever he wanted to go. It was actually fun for both of us, and it was never the same twice. I ran with him for about 5 minutes, always full of joyous laughter. You can’t get a Disneyland ride as good as that.

The next day I offered the same contract, but I started it 30 minutes before the end. Again, there was no hurting, so he got another ride. The next day’s the contract I offered was for one hour of no hurting for the ride. The next day it was 2 hours for the ride. Thereafter it was for the entire session. Mostly he was successful, but he also failed to earn the ride several times. I said, “Maybe tomorrow you’ll make it. I sure hope so. I missed out, too.”

I could see the impact this arrangement had on the choices he made. He had to be the one to stop hurting others and he did. Within two weeks all hurting stopped. Next worse on the transgression list was furniture climbing, where we continued the regular practice of inviting him down. To add this on the contract I told him halfway through the day that our piggyback ride would only happen if he did not hurt anyone and he did not climb on things for the rest of the day. He was successful in both. The next day the contract was for no hurting and no climbing. Gradually we added on the interference with other’s work, and soon we had no further incidents. Isn’t that amazing?

Arranged Rewards

I assume you can imagine the problem that arises: we have arranged rewards rather than natural rewards. The contracted piggyback ride was added to his life, it wasn’t there normally, nor was it normal for an adult to provide a special treat to only one child. It was an artificial arrangement, and it worked. The idea of arranged rewards is a topic that I will address on another page Using Rewards Effectively; it’s a topic that I think is behind the problem most people have with behavior management. Arranged award systems present many problems, including issues of ethics, so it is essential that we get off them.

As for Mark, I did fade out this reward system rapidly after the “no interference with others work” was added to the mix. All the way along I had talked about how great it must feel to find yourself growing bigger and being more competent and relaxed. “Isn’t school more fun now?” Then I started to say to him at the beginning of the day that I had to do other things, so I could not do the piggy back ride today. Gradually that arranged reward faded. The rest of the year worked well for Mark, but I heard that when he moved on to Kindergarten, he had difficulties again.



I use Contract for Non-occurence for the really bad problems and those behaviors where the child seems out of control. It never would be my first choice, because of the work I have to do on the reward part of the contract. The idea of rewards raises the issue of Bribery: is this a bribe? Yes, it is a bribe. When I look at the dictionary, I generally find two definitions. The first is a reward for unethical or illegal behavior. The second is an inducement. Yes, this is an inducement, but his inducement is for ethical and constructive behavior. However you see it, we are indeed facing issues of ethics here.


I have often been asked what happens to the other children when one child gets singled out for a special treat no one else can have? Ethics again. First let’s compare two ethical ideas: fairness and individualization. Fairness treats everyone the same way. Individualization offers what each person best needs. The two are rarely the same. In my mind, we were creating an arrangement that was only for Mark because he alone needed it. The children knew Mark; they knew very well how hard he was on everyone. I think they understood it was necessary in order to enable him to be a contributor to our community. To ease this problem a bit, I offered the children an opportunity that was well received by Mark. “If you want to do what Mark does, you can ask him to include you. He is the one who decides; it is his earned reward.” I have found that this extra ability to offer the reward to others has a social value that adds significance and moves the rewards into more natural conditions.


1. I can’t get on the phone or talk to a visiting friend without my three-year-old child making constant interruptions. What would be a Contract for Non-occurrence?

2. Kerry gets up from the dinner table and runs around the room or dumps his food on the floor or spills his dirink. What would be a Contract for Non-occurrence?

New Antecedent Choices

  • teach new skills
  • take extra effort to reward others
  • offer new timely cues
  • set the stage
  • contract for non-occurrence

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  1. Specify the behavior exactly
  2. Take a before measure
  3. Identify the A-B-C pattern


  1. Change the consequences
  2. Pick a new behavior to reward
  3. Change the antecedents
  4. Continue to measure

Examples of SandyJeremy, and Charlie

Using Rewards Effectively

Next Continue to Measure