It has happened to all of us. We ask our child to do something, and instead of responding with a “yes,” we get a “no.” It can be frustrating, but with the right approach, you can turn that “no” into a “yes.”

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one approach that can help achieve this goal. Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior (DRA) is another technique that can be used to encourage positive behavior. In this blog post, we will discuss some strategies and how they can help you get more yeses from your children!

ABA Therapy and using DRA

ABA therapy is a type of behavioral therapy. One common ABA technique is called differential reinforcement. Differential reinforcement involves reinforcing good behavior so that we can avoid tantrums in the future.

For example, if you want your child to stop hitting, you might give them a sticker every time they refrain from hitting for a certain period of time. This also helps teach them emotional regulation skills.

Differential reinforcement can be an effective tool for changing behavior, but it’s important to use it correctly. If you reinforce the wrong behavior or punish the wrong behavior, you will not see the results you want.

BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analysts) are trained in using differential reinforcement and can help you determine the best way to use it with your child.

Parenting and how it plays a factor

It goes without saying that the way you parent can have a major impact on your child’s behavior. Using techniques and strategies like DRA and positive reinforcement can be a great tool for parents to help positively impact a child’s behavior and get the desired behaviors we want as parents.

If you are consistently angry or critical and an authoritative parent, your child is more likely to behave in an aggressive or defiant manner. On the other hand, if you are patient and loving, your child is more likely to respond positively to requests and be well-behaved overall. It is really important to remember that our kids are always learning and understand a lot more than we think.

Think about your own life as an adult. If you have an overbearing boss who is constantly critical of you and pointing out your flaws you start to feel defeated and there is no motivation for you to do better.

So, let’s take a look at some real-life scenarios and how you can use differential reinforcement to help your child learn.

Using DRA In Daily Life (Parenting Tips)


Many times when you tell your child no it is due to something related to safety. For example, if a child is reaching for the stove your initial reaction will be to tell them no so that they don’t hurt themselves.

However, it’s important to take the time to explain to your child why you told them no, and by using DRA you can offer an alternative behavior. So instead of just saying no, you can tell your child something like “Hey let’s stand behind this line” and once they are standing behind the line it is important to reinforce that behavior by cheering them on and letting them know that you appreciate them staying safe.


A lot of children also have a hard time transitioning from doing something that they are having a good time doing such as leaving the parks or other fun places. This often results in a child throwing a tantrum and can be difficult for any parent to deal with.

Reframing this scene can play a big role in getting your child to transition. So instead of telling your child “Get up, let’s go, it’s time to go, we have to leave.”

You can offer choices to promote an alternative behavior like “Do you want to race to the car or would you rather walk?” This gets your child engaged and more interested in what you are asking them to do. And again, it’s important to offer praise as reinforcement for this good behavior.

In Public

Often times in public our kids may struggle with being overstimulated and this can lead to some difficult times for parents. For example, think about a trip to the grocery store. It’s a fun place for our kids with all of the choices and exciting things happening. But it’s important to set boundaries.

One way that you can set boundaries is again by giving your child options. So instead of saying “No you can’t have that toy.” you can try reframing the situation by saying something like “Hey buddy right now we aren’t going to buy a toy, but what can you do is help me pick out this cereal. Do you want Honey Nut Cheerios today or do you want Rice Krispies?”

By using this reframing you’re offering your child an alternative behavior and still letting them participate in the shopping experience at the grocery store.

What have we learned?

Using Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior can be a great way to help with a child’s emotional regulation which can help them lessen tantrums and other bad behaviors by offering engaging alternatives and being reinforced when they display good behavior.

It can be tempting and easy to say no to your child. But remember, that it’s exhausting for you as a parent and exhausting for your child as well. Instead, use those moments as teaching opportunities to tell them what they CAN do, versus what they can’t.

If you are struggling to find a parenting style that works for you, there are many resources available to help you. BCBAs, counselors, and other professionals can all help to provide guidance and support.

If you’re interested in learning more about the science behind Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior, we suggest checking out the link to the research done in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (Kunnavatana, S. S., Bloom, S. E., Samaha, A. L., Slocum, T. A., & Clay, C. J. (2018). Manipulating parameters of reinforcement to reduce problem behavior without extinction. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 51(2), 283–302.

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