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Routine charts - who needs them... adults or children?

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

In the last few years I have never seen such an over reliance on routine behaviour charts for children by professionals working with families, although not specifically behaviour change specialists, routine charts are a quick, easy way of attempting to change a child's behaviour, to ensure more compliance with adult requests and needs.

There are many concerns that come to mind with this approach, an absence of data comes to mind, in addition to the behaviour of concern and what is maintaining the behaviour and reinforcing it. Sometimes there appears to be an over-response to changing children's behaviours when really, with good data, observations and assessment, accuracy is a key to identifying and implementing strategies to change behaviour. Have you noticed how during the COVID changes there has been a huge response to organising, scheduling, designing children to respond to routines? At a time in Australia where adults have created a situation where toilet paper was sold out, supermarkets implemented restrictions to modify adult behaviours. I wondered what children were learning from these examples of behaviour. I drove around one day, trying to find dog food, shelves were empty of basic cooking ingredients and even my attempt to cook a yummy vegan lasagne on one occasion seemed too difficult, as the supermarket restricted purchases to 2 tins only, so no crushed organic tomatoes & lentils, just one or the other. Adults panic buying, displaying behaviours many would not tolerate in children (over reactions, panic, frustration, fear).

It's certainly not new or unusual for adults to have higher expectations of children than themselves. Taking responsibility for your behaviour and how it impacts on those around you

is as hard for grown ups as it is for children. It requires owning your choices, responses or lack of response or actions. However, it is rare children are afforded the same avenues of escape and avoidance with understanding. When a child's behaviour is described as 'out of control' I'm interested to see where, how and why this occurs. I begin with gathering information from the contexts in which the child lives, plays, learns, eats, interacts.

When a child is referred for behaviour support and the first response is to design a strict routine chart that the child must comply with, given token treats for every time the child completes the activity or skill as the parent requests, my concern is a very large lack of attention to the variables impacting on the child's behaviour, information gathering on the environmental stimulus, a complete lack of data on why the behaviour is occurring in the first place, adding up to no understanding of the function of the behaviour. What does the child learn from their voice being silent? From professionals not understanding why their behaviour is occurring.

Another concern is knowing if the parent will implement the chart as intended by the professional without collaboration. If there is a lack of consistency with reinforcement, the behaviour may not change, the skill may not develop and assumptions may be made about the child's capacity for change, when really the focus may need to be elsewhere, the behaviour of concern could be likely to strengthen. Although if the goal is to create service dependency, families returning time and time again, then band-aid approaches will serve this purpose. If the goal is to really change behaviour, to support families in reaching their full potential, for children to live lives where they are free to enter adulthood with far less weight of unaddressed behaviours of concern, because the pattern, history & understanding never occurred, then seeking out behaviour change specialists is the way to achieving more effective outcomes, relevant and meaningful behaviour change in homes, schools and communities. Have you ever wondered why a child behaves for one person & not another?

Why a behaviour occurs in one environment e.g. home and yet not at school?

Behaviour is impacted by many factors in the environment. A stimulus is something that happens and your behaviour changes, something, someone, a place, an event; when this happens, the response occurs. My favourite parent behaviour chart.

Understanding behaviour, why the behaviour occurs is a key component of behaviour change, vitally important if the purpose is to actually change the behaviour. Although sometimes time, resources, funds may restrict how much information can be gathered, which means short cuts are made to provide the individual with something rather than no assistance at all. I get that completely. The risk is a quick fix may create a bigger concern; a huge risk is if the intervention ends up reinforcing the behaviour, worse still, creates harm, is exacerbating the situation over a long term, creating more challenge to change the behaviour; there is no generalisation across all environments, there is no sustaining the change. Something as important as ruling out medical causes behind behaviour, like illness, in addition to exploring when the behaviour of concern occurs, who is present, what is happening, how often, how intense, when does it not occur, what is happening, who is present, how are people responding and how does the individual with the behaviour of concern respond, considering all these variables provides insight into the behaviour. These and many, many more questions will be part of understanding the behaviour, the function, the purpose of the behaviour. Sometime time ago I had a situation where during an investigation, I was inundated with flies, chronic neglect in a home environment, the stench was incredible. Another professional asked after pointing to the room to examine, to take my camera and make sure I pulled the door close when I entered! For a long time after I had this sensitivity to flies. I had never in my career at that time, ever seen an environment where children were sleeping in such a state. If my behaviour was influenced by the experience, just imagine what it must have been like for the children who slept or tried to sleep in that environment, along with pets, used needles, ashtrays etc. over a long period of time, in addition to their experience of adult behaviours. If down the track sitting in the classroom one day, someone leaves the window open for cool air in summer and a hoard of flies buzz in, it would be understandable if the children from the chronic neglect experience responded outside of what the teacher might expect. Only because I've provided you with a little insight into why the child jumping out of their seat to close it and then fiercely defend wanting the window closed, may occur, are you able to consider a different response to the child's actions. So imagine if all that information is absent. Gathering data, information and ensuring behaviour change is evidence-based, should not be optional if it can be avoided, in the best interests of individuals requiring support. A child routine behaviour chart can serve an effective purpose and be useful when appropriate, however in the situation above, may not be the appropriate intervention. Trauma-informed behaviour assessment shouldn't need explanation in applied behaviour analysis, if you are gathering data, information on the pattern and history of the behaviour, seeking to identify the function of the behaviour.

Understanding the adult role models in a child's life, the adults who make the rules, implement the routines and provide care and support, is key to understanding a child's behaviour.

Next time your default is to look at a child's behaviour and decide the child needs to change, or maybe it is your partner, a friend, a colleague, your pet; maybe try using some of the adult behaviour charts below and consider your behaviour, role modelling, lessons and experiences influencing your behaviour. Let us know if we can point your need to change a behaviour, in the right direction.

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