George Lucas Educational Foundation

Extinction of Behavior exhibited by a Toddler

Extinction of Behavior exhibited by a Toddler

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Hi! I am a special education teacher and teach in a full-inclusion preschool classroom. I have some concerns about the best approach for treating a student who is 3 years old. This student is developmentally approximately 18 months. He is head banging. We are slowly starting to see a decrease in the behavior but we are at the point where we would like to extinguish the behavior altogether. He has a helmet that is put on when the behavior occurs and is taken off after ten seconds when he calms himself. The new plan is that the helmet stays on for the rest of the day if he bangs himself at any time throughout the day. It is hoped that this will extinguish the behavior. Do you have any thoughts or ideas regarding this approach or other possible interventions? Thank you, Ellen

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Lori Day's picture
Lori Day
Educational Psychologist and Consultant at Lori Day Consulting


I am an educational consultant who used to be an educational psychologist--and still am! As I read your post, I had two simultaneous thoughts. One was that it made a certain kind of sense to change the rule and have the child wear the helmet all day if he bangs his head, because that might be a sufficient deterrent. However, it also feels punitive to me, and possibly embarrassing for the child as well as socially distancing. I realize I may be asking the obvious, but have you tried the opposite approach of giving the child rewards for going increasingly longer time periods with banging his head? Is he too young (developmentally) to respond to this approach? Finally, do you notice any of what I call "dandelion behaviors" (ones that pop up when you mow others down) as you extinguish the head banging? I'm happy to respond again and try to be more helpful.

Lori Day

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