Music therapists use many strategies and interventions that focus on numerous goals and objectives that fall under various domains such as language and communication, motor skills and coordination, social skills, and cognition. Music therapists are also extensively trained in managing specific behaviors when providing treatment. Often times family members and teachers that we work with will express concern over certain behaviors especially when behaviors can inhibit a child’s ability to learn, socialize with peers, or execute functional tasks. In this blog, I will cover a few behaviors I often encounter in my sessions and share a few strategies I have found to be successful.

Behavior # 1:

Difficulty listening and following directions- I have found a couple of great tools to use with these problem behaviors.

  • The token system: Within an educational setting, a token economy is a system for providing positive reinforcement to a child or children by giving them tokens for completing tasks or behaving in desired ways. I went to a local store and bought cheap plastic poker chips in the game aisle along with a clear container. When your child does something positive reward them by having them put a red chip into the container. As they put the chip in the container, tell them why they are getting a “good” chip (ex. “You put your toys away the first time I asked you, great job!”). If the child demonstrates a behavior you do not approve of have them put a blue chip in the container. Again, as they put this chip into the container, explain why they are getting a “bad” chip (ex. “I’m sorry, but you continued to wrestle with your brother after I asked you twice to stop.”). At the end of the day, if the child has more red chips than blue chips, they earn a reward. This reward could be from a “treasure chest” that you have filled with Dollar Store goodies, or they can earn an even bigger reward like ice cream at a favorite restaurant. You know what will motivate your child! This strategy is very flexible and can be adapted based on your needs.
  • The Counting System: As a parent, I swore I would never be a parent that “counts.” However, I read an amazing book called 1, 2, 3 Magic and it has not only worked wonders managing certain behaviors with my own son, but with many of the individuals I work with. If you are not big on reading, I found the DVD version of this book through my local library and it only took me an hour or so to watch. One warning though, like anything else, consistency is key with this strategy. Click here: 1-2-3-magic How To to access a step by step worksheet on how to use this strategy.

Behavior #2:

Makes Inappropriate Remarks (which may be attributed to a deficit in linguistic pragmatics):

I recently worked with an individual that began to script, or echo, inappropriate remarks. I have worked with this sweet kid long enough to know that they had no malicious intentions; however, a complete stranger may interpret these remarks as disrespectful or offensive. On the fly I came up with a “check system” to help them be more aware of these behaviors. Whenever they made an inappropriate remark in my session, I played a tambourine and asked them if their statement was an “ok” thing to say to someone else. After they responded, I processed their response and why it was not an “ok” thing to say. This was an instant success in my session.

For using this technique at home I suggested getting two paper plates, one with a “happy face” and one with a “sad face.” I then encouraged their mother to hold up a facial expression whenever they made a positive or negative remark and discuss the nature of the remark with their child.

Behavior #3:

Difficulty focusing and creates distractions: When I have clients that have difficulty focusing during activities, I often use a song that not only redirects behaviors such as creating distractions, but cues their focus back to the task at hand. The song goes as follows:

(Sung to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It)

Put your hands in your lap, in your lap (pat-pat)

Put your hands in your lap, in your lap (pat-pat)

Put your hands in your lap, very nicely just like that.

Put your hands in your lap, in your lap (pat-pat).

I have also found that as my clients become familiar with this cue I only have to sing the first phrase before their focus is redirected.

Many of these strategies are easily accessible and applicable in your home. Although your child might initially have difficulty transitioning to these changes in expectations for their behavior, consistency is key. Try one strategy for a while and if you see little change in concerning behaviors, try another strategy. Often times, the token system works better for certain clients while other times clients respond better to the counting system. Just make sure you “stick to your guns” and follow through with whichever strategy you choose.


For more information about how music therapy can be used to address behavioral concerns please contact us at 803-250-6833 or click here.