In my last post I discussed the importance of positive reinforcement when we are trying to change problem behaviours. The next question is - How do I know what is reinforcing to my child?
Reinforcement can take many forms and really comes down to the individual. What may be motivating to one child may not be to another. For example, you may have one child who loves hugs and another one who isn't too keen on heaps of physical contact. The hugs may work as a reinforcer for the first child but would consider finding an alternative reinforcer for your other child.
How do I do this?
Here are some important things to consider when you're planning on delivering reinforcers to change behaviour:
One of the most powerful and effective forms of reinforcement is parent attention! Examples are - praise, hugs, engaging in an activity together (Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007)
Identifying effective reinforcers can involve several easy processes. The first is to simply ask your child to tell you what they prefer. The second is observing the length of time your child plays with various items you present to them.
Keep of list of reinforcer preferences but update regularly. What is a preferred reinforcer one day, may not be the next. Mix up reinforcers and have a variety at hand. Perhaps have a mystery box with a few different items to choose from? A jar with little reinforcer preference notes in it. Encourage the child to contribute ideas and place them in the jar while building literacy skills at the same time!
Finally, keep it simple and don't spend heaps of money on reinforcers. You'll be surprised by all the simple and inexpensive things that will motivate your child. We've all seen how much joy a child receives from an empty box!!
Will I be handing out reinforcement for this behaviour forever?
No, you won't be. The ultimate goal when changing behaviour is gradually moving from the extrinsic reinforcers (e.g. toys, food etc.) to the naturally occurring reinforcers in the environment. An example of this is when you are trying to change your child's behaviour at playgroup visits to the park. Every time you and your mother's group meet up at the park your child ends up hitting someone. I've been here and there's normally a lot of tears involved and I don't just mean the children!!! We want to reinforce the appropriate behaviours of not hitting anyone. The first few weeks you immediately provide heaps of praise and hugs when you see that they haven't hit anyone and provide the reinforcer. You will need to get amongst it all for a while. What I mean by this is that you will need to be close to your child as they interact with their peers and praise the appropriate behaviours. What we're working towards is maintaining the behaviours we want to see and eventually, without any input from you, your child will come into contact with natural reinforcers, like how fun it is to play with their peers without causing tears and the realisation that everyone around them is happy too!! Remember! It's all about reinforcing the behaviour!!
Finally, as I've mentioned in previous blogs, it's about taking action on values that are important to you. For many parents and carers, those values are often about sharing less stressful and more joyful moments with our children!