Raise your hand if someone has ever said to you “But isn’t that just bribing your kid to behave?” As Behavior Analysts, we just want to slap our foreheads in frustration every single time we hear that. Every. Single. Time!
NO!! Positive reinforcement is NOT the same thing as bribery!
I could write paragraph after paragraph on this subject. But who has time to read all that? (Obvious answer: Ain’t nobody got time fo that.)
So I am sharing a series of visuals depicting the differences between positive reinforcement (when used appropriately as a behavior analytic technique) and bribery.
Stay tuned for more helpful visuals on bribery vs positive reinforcement. Spoiler alert: Positive reinforcement wins.
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"Some parents like to get down on the floor and act silly with their kids (my husband I and both fall into this category) while others are more comfortable talking with their kids and aren’t naturally inclined to make a fool of themselves by acting like a toddler.
The importance of play for early learning and childhood development has been researched and well documented. This is my excuse for wearing cat ears while typing this. I swear my daughter put them there.
We know play skills are important but are they teachable? Isn’t play something that just comes naturally to some kids? The short answer is: play IS teachable."
By definition, positive reinforcement is when a stimulus is presented following a behavior that increases the future frequency of the behavior. Positive reinforcement is adding something after a behavior & then that behavior increases. So what do you add? Do you have to spend a bunch of money on toys and more crap, I mean lovely educational items, to clutter up your home?
NO NO NO! You do not have to spend lots of money to use positive reinforcement effectively! NO NO NO!
A reinforcer can be spoken praise, high fives, tickles, funny noises, songs, dance parties and other physical activities that are FREE.
A reinforcer can be anything your kid is into as long as it increases the likelihood of the behavior occurring in the future.
There are tons of ideas out there on the inter-webs. Let me guide you to a few good lists of FREE and CHEAP reinforcers.
Resources on what positive reinforcement is, what it means, how to use it:
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Look what's going on over at Behavioral Science in the 21st Century!
As a parent, you want to have high expectations for your child for them to strive to achieve. You want them to reach for the stars!
As your child grows and develops, your expectations and goals for them need to be appropriate for where they are at right now. Make your goals achievable, celebrate the successes, and then set new goals.
Keep raising the bar, but just a little at a time.
In behavior analysis, we call this shaping. Shaping is when you break down a complex behavior and reinforce smaller approximations that are growing toward that big behavior. Too technical? Let me try an example.
Here is a way I am working with my daughter on the complex behavior of speaking in sentences. She’s just barely a toddler so maybe my bar is a little high, but stick with me.
Ready, set, GO! That’s the phrase we use for a lot of things. When she was just learning to make sounds purposefully I just waited for her to grunt, squeal, whatever. I would hold a cup of water in the bathtub, ready to dump it out waterfall style and say “Ready, set,….”. When she would utter anything at all, I would say “GO!” and dump the water out.
Fast forward some amount of time (it’s all a blur, I honestly don’t know how long we stayed at each level). Then I would accept a vowel sound- something that sounded more like the word go than just a grunt. I’d dump the water, blow the bubbles, push her on the swing, roll the ball, you name it after “Ready, Set,….” oooo, aaahh, uuhhh, ohhhh. My response was always: “GO!” and then perform the activity.
Now we she says the word “go” very clearly. She’ll try to get away with guh or goo but I wait for GO the correct word.
The next step will be, “Ready…” and she’ll have to say “set, go!” We can also expand to other phrases. Some ideas include:
I started small with her learning to fill in the blank when I pause. I always repeated back to her the end goal word. Then as she got more proficient, I expected closer approximations to the goal word. Now she can say the word and I’m raising the bar to more words. Then phrases, and someday even sentences! I’m just crazy like that!
Interested in learning more about ABA and parenting? Check out Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity!
Don’t take my word for out. These guys say it’s true:
Brophy, J. E. (1983). Research on the self-fulfilling prophecy and teacher expectations. Journal of educational psychology, 75(5), 631.
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis.
Lane, K. L., Wehby, J. H., & Cooley, C. (2006). Teacher expectations of students' classroom behavior across the grade span: Which social skills are necessary for success?. Exceptional Children, 72(2), 153-167.
Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. Simon and Schuster.
Wolf, M., Risley, T., & Mees, H. (1963). Application of operant conditioning procedures to the behaviour problems of an autistic child. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 1(2), 305-312.
My sweet precious darling Little has been playing a new fun game this week. We call it testing her boundaries. She has been having an oh so easy and lovely time learning the true meaning of the word NO. It’s been so fun.
My mantra to myself: Hold your ground, Mama.
When she screams over the silliest thing, don’t give in. When she cries and just looks so sad, don’t give in. If I reinforce the screaming and crying by giving in to them- these unwanted behaviors will only increase in the future. I do not want that!
No means no. This is a great rule for parenting, dating, dieting, you name it. No means NO. If I tell my girl no, I’d better be ready to back that up. No means NO, Mama.
Here’s a super fun example from this week:
We went to the splash park one morning to meet my Little’s #1 gal pal and her mom (who happens to be one of my favoritest gal pals). There was nobody at the splash park because all the big kids are back in school. I was so excited for our play date because the sun was shining and our girls had an entire spray ground to themselves. That never happens!
Well, my Little in her still newfound freedom of mobility wanted to not play in all the fountains, but to run across the cement. Well my precious girl is not exactly graceful in this stage of life and running across the cement around the spray ground would have resulted in skinned knees, a scraped up face, and blood everywhere. At the least.
She did not like my “Stay on the blue. Let’s play in the water.” I blocked her escape to the cement and tried to redirect her to go play about a gazillion times. I held her hands and we ran together through the fountains. (Why didn’t I wear a swimsuit this one time?) I got out toys to play in the water. Her sweet gal pal brought toys to her. NONE of it worked!
I ended up holding a crying girl and just talking over her noise with my friend while her sweet Little had a ball in the fountains. Eventually, my girl sat on the very edge of the spray ground and played toys and we ended our play date really nicely.
I stood my ground. It sucked. But it was worth it.
My Little has to learn, even if it is the hard way, that no means no. I will not reinforce the undesired behaviors by giving her whatever she’s crying about.
I said no this time to keep her physically safe. Sometimes I’ll say no for another reason. But when I say no- I have to mean it. I have to be ready to stand my ground
No means no, sweet girl. No means no, Mama.
Need more ideas for using behavior analysis in your mommy role? Check out my book- Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom's Sanity.
Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA