When you hear the word extinction, what do you think about? Do you think of dinosaurs or some other animal that no longer exists? What if I told you that extinction could apply to you and your child’s behavior?

There may be situations in which your child will engage in problem behavior to access items or activities that they want. As their parent, you may often, unknowingly, reinforce the problem behavior by providing the wanted item or activity AFTER the child engages in the problem behavior. In this case, extinction is when you no longer provide reinforcement for a behavior that was previously reinforced. In other words, the problem behaviors your child were engaging in to obtain the items or activities s/he wanted will no longer result in the desired items.

Looking back at the above visual, you will notice that extinction can look different contingent on the type of problem behavior. Let’s explore this further.

When you don’t let the problem behavior “work” you are essentially putting that behavior on extinction. Keep in mind that extinction may not provide immediate results, however, it is very effective as a long-term solution. In some cases, you may experience an extinction burst which means problem behavior can increase both in frequency and in intensity for a period before you start to see a decrease in problem behavior. When your child first experiences extinction, they may become frustrated and problem behavior may increase. But if you remain consistent with extinction and do not give in to the problem behavior, you should a decrease in problem behavior over time. If you are not consistent with extinction you will be less likely to see problem behavior decrease.

Lastly, extinction is often followed up with teaching an appropriate response to obtain desired items or activities. Overall, the end state of using extinction is to no longer reinforce the problem behavior while at the same time only recognizing the appropriate response as a method for the child to get what s/he wants.