A very scaled down version of the scientific definition of behavior (Johnston & Pennypacker) states: “…that portion of an organism’s interaction with it’s environment…”
Behavior does not occur in a vacuum. It’s all about the environment. We cannot physically change our children’s behavior. We can change their environment though. We can change the consequences of their behavior and we can modify or change the antecedents to their behavior, or the things that happen before a problem behavior occurs.
A simple technique to increase a specific desired behavior is to physically set up the environment to prompt that behavior to occur.
Example 1: Target behavior- language
You want your child to request things politely instead of grabbing or taking them? Put preferred items out of their reach. Only provide these toys or items when they request correctly.
Example 2: Mobility
Right now my infant crawls with her face on the ground and one hip up to the sky. I really can’t describe it. But what we are doing to try to encourage her to be more mobile (what is wrong with me?! Having her stationary is a good thing for Mom!) is to put her most favorite items a little farther and farther away from where she is playing so she has to move to get to them.
Example 3: Food/eating
You are having battles at dinnertime. In order to get your child to eat more of the food you have prepared at mealtime, make sure snack foods aren’t available all the time. Restrict access to all foods, especially the most preferred ones, until it is mealtime.
Example 4: Interrupting
Your child constantly interrupts you. Teach them what you want them to do instead (replacement behavior), such as placing their hand on your arm and looking up at you. Whenever they do this correctly, get down on their level and really look them in the eye and listen to whatever it is they have to say. You don’t have to physically rearrange your home, but you are changing the physical consequences of the appropriate behavior.
Example 5: Social skills
Your kids like to play video games or watch TV and you want them to do more social activities, like play together. Make it so the TV cannot be turned on by your children. Introduce new collaborative activities- have a big puzzle, craft project, or game sitting out when they get home from school and the remote controls locked away somewhere.
Example 6: Sharing
Do a fun activity with your kids, but only have one paintbrush when painting or not enough game pieces in the game. Make it so you all HAVE to share to be successful at the activity.
Think about what behavior you want to INCREASE. Then think of how to set things up to make it easy for that behavior to happen. How can you arrange your environment to INCREASE desired behavior?
Side effect: decrease in problem behavior. Whoop whoop!
From the father of Applied Behavior Analysis, B.F. Skinner : “The environment shapes people’s actions.”
Research is cool!
Wahler, R.G., and Fox, J.J. (1981) Setting events in applied behavior analysis: Toward a conceptual and methodological expansion, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 14 (3), 327-338.
Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Basic Concepts. In Applied Behavior Analysis(2nd ed., pp 25-28). Columbus: Pearson.
Looking for some more behavior strategies for moms? Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity is available now!
Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA