Behavior Therapy for Behavior or Conduct Problems

What is behavior therapy?

Behavior therapy is effective treatment for behavior or conduct problems that can improve a child’s behavior, self-control, and self-esteem. The goals of behavior therapy are to learn or strengthen positive behaviors and eliminate unwanted or problem behaviors. Behavior therapy can include the parent, the child, or both together. It is most effective in younger children when it is delivered by parents.

When parents become trained in behavior therapy, they learn skills and strategies to help their child succeed at school, at home, and in relationships. Parent behavior therapy means that parents learn how to teach and guide their children and to manage their behavior. Parent training in behavior therapy has been shown to strengthen the relationship between the parent and child, and to decrease children’s negative or problem behaviors. Parent training programs include practicing new skills with the child, either during the therapy or at home.

Behavior therapy training for parents is effective for managing disruptive behavior in young children through age 12. A recent review of treatment in children aged 12 years and under found that the best evidence was for parent behavior therapy, when delivered either as group therapy or individually with child participation.

Finding a therapist

How do families find a therapist who trains parents in behavior therapy?

Psychologists, social workers, and licensed counselors can provide this kind of training to parents. Therapists may be found through professional association directories or through health insurance provider directories. Parents can review the therapist’s online profile or call and ask the therapist to describe their approach to behavior treatment.

What should parents look for?

Families should look for a therapist who focuses on training parents. Some therapists will have training or certification in a program that has been proven to work in children with behavior problems. The following list of questions can be used to find a therapist who uses a proven approach:

Does this therapist

  • Teach parents skills and strategies that use positive reinforcement, structure, and consistent discipline to manage their child’s behavior?
  • Teach parents positive ways to interact and communicate with their child?
  • Assign activities for parents to practice with their child?
  • Meet regularly with the family to monitor progress and provide coaching and support?
  • Re-evaluate and remain flexible enough to adjust strategies as needed?
What can parents expect?

Parents typically attend eight or more sessions with a therapist. Sessions may involve groups or individual families. The therapist meets regularly with the family to review their progress, provide support, and adjust strategies as needed to ensure improvement. Parents practice with their child during or between sessions.

  • The therapist meets regularly with the family to monitor progress and provide support
  • Between sessions, parents practice using the skills they’ve learned from the therapist
  • After therapy ends, families continue to experience improved behavior and reduced stress.
More information on treatment options for children