“Is Parenting with ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) just all about rewards? I don’t want to bribe my child. I want to connect with them.”

Then we are on the same page. Parenting with ABA is all about using positive behavior supports to save your sanity. It’s also about CONNECTING with your child. Using positive reinforcement is just what it sounds like- a positive experience. For everyone involved- not just the child receiving the reinforcement.

Let’s address the first point first: positive reinforcement is not the same as bribery. Positive reinforcement focuses on increasing desired behaviors. It is useful to shape behaviors that are more appropriate, that help your child communicate, and help your child get what they need from the environment. Does that sound like bribery or corruption? Positive reinforcement is about HELPING your child in a pleasant way. Does that sound like it would help you to CONNECT with your child or cause alienation in your relationship? Read more about positive reinforcement versus bribery here.

Second point- connection is key. Building a strong relationship with our children is so so so important as parents! As a mom, I want to find the best way to do this while being careful to teach good values and not raise entitled children. I read parenting books, blogs, you name it. But I know there is a science of behavior that has been proven again and again and again. I choose to use that behavior science to give me the tools to build up my relationship and my connection with my kids. It gives me the confidence that what I’m doing is effective- the research says so.

Sticking with the science puts me on a firm parenting foundation that honestly helps me sleep better at night! I know what I’m doing for my kids is a good thing. I know that I am trying my hardest to build up behaviors that will help my daughters to be independent, to be good communicators, and to be good friends.

Let’s look more closely at the issue of connection and the use of behavior analytic strategies.

  1. Pairing- this research-based method is about combining a reinforcing stimulus with something your child doesn’t like (but needs to do- hello grooming, chores, etc). We could put our foot down and make our child clean their room. OR ELSE. OR we could use pairing. Pair the un-fun thing with something we know our kid likes. Example: blast their favorite music while cleaning their room, brushing their teeth, whatever the non-preferred activity is. Make the unfun thing more fun! Make it a game, a race, whatever your child will find engaging. Which of these will help you to connect with your child? Drawing a line in the sand with a threat of punishment or having fun together? Read more about pairing here and here.
  2. Premack principle- this is a simple “First __ (do the thing)__, then __(positive reinforcement)__.” It’s a quick, clear contingency. Do what’s got to get done, then you can engage in whatever preferred activity you’re in to. This teaches self-management starting at toddlerhood! Again- we can try to force our children to obey every last command through punishment and coercion OR we can give them a simple, naturally occurring contingency of reinforcement. Which one is better for your relationship? Which helps you reach your parenting goals and mission? Learn more about the premack principle here and here.

Using behavior analytic strategies give us the tools we need to feel confident as parents. But they also give us something more. The opportunity to connect with our kids, to communicate with them, and to be reinforcing to them. If we ourselves are reinforcing, by definition our children will approach us more, seek us out more.

When things get rocky in my own family- new problem behaviors, anger, arguing, frustration- you name it, there’s not a lot of good happening to build a strong relationship with my daughters. Our communication with each other is not super helpful or beneficial to anyone in these times.

Then we turn it positive again through the use of a behavior analytic strategy of positive reinforcement. Boom! We’re back on track. We are communicating, laughing, sharing with each other as a family. We are all enjoying each other’s company.

Do we get there through bribery, being strict, or punishment? No. We get there with some positive behavior supports- the kind that are backed by a very real science.


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