Behaviorism for Parents 3

Behaviorism for Parents – Moving Up (Lesson 3)

(If you haven’t read the first two installments, find them here and here.) 

You don’t want to reward your kid for every little thing forever.

(1) First, how much does that behavior become intrinsically (or naturally) rewarding, meaning it will maintain itself over time after awhile? For example, exercise might be this way. We have to reward ourselves in the beginning to make it a habit, but once we start feeling better exercise is easier and more pleasant and our bodies feel good, so we don’t have to reward it anymore. Speaking more kindly results in nicer, easier relationships; sometimes even keeping one’s room clean ends up feeling good. If your kid starts doing a behavior with no reminders and no complaining, you can try just reducing the amount or frequency of the reward over time.

(2) You may be able to improve behavior through shaping, as described in the last post.

(3) You may want to use chaining. It’s similar to shaping, but chaining means stringing several desired behaviors together. You probably already did this at least once during potty training, because that’s a multi-behavior process (where each behavior was probably also shaped). When you first started potty training, you probably did all the work – getting to the bathroom, disrobing, setting the kid on the toilet, wiping or helping them wipe (wiping effectively is definitely one of those behaviors that needed shaping!), redressing, flushing, and washing hands. All your kid did was sit there and sometimes pee or poop. And at that time, they probably got praise or the potty song or an m&m, right? But eventually, you didn’t reward them just for peeing, they also had to flush. Then pee, flush, and pull pants up and down. All the way to being able to the whole chained process! (And, depending on how old your kids are, you probably don’t even give them m&m’s anymore -haha!)

(4) You may want to use a token economy. A token economy is especially helpful (and more convenient) when kids get older and so rewards are a little more substantial or when they can handle a little delay in their reward. (Remember, really little kids can’t make the connection even with a few minutes’ delay (this is why you brought the m&ms to the bathroom with you!), but older kids’ and teens can wait till the end of the day, week, or even more.

A token economy means that you use something symbolic (a “token”) to keep track of the rewardable behaviors, and then give the reward once they’ve added up. This could be stickers on a chart, or paper tickets that can be turned in, etc. One way to do this is just for any extra helpful chores, behaviors, etc. – for example, when a kid does a task that helps the family that’s not part of their regular responsibilities, they get a sticker. Once they get 20 stickers, they get $20. (This is more convenient than giving $1 each time.)

But if you’re using the token economy to keep track of regular chores, behaviors, responsibilities, you need to make sure that the child is regularly earning between about 60-80% of their available tokens per day. If they are earning 100% every day, it actually reduces their motivation. You can increase the difficulty of the tasks. If they are earning under 60%, they’ll also lose motivation. That means you need to reduce the difficulty of the behaviors to keep them invested in the program.



Comment below: What other behaviorism techniques might be useful for parents?