First and Then....
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Ok, today I’m sharing one of my favourite antecedent strategies with you! You may say, “oh no, not another one!”. Hey you guys, I can’t stress enough - never underestimate the power of antecedent control when you’re dealing with problem behaviours! I did touch on this in my blog about 'The Rigour of Triggers'.
So back to the topic - the use of ‘First and Then’. In ABA it’s known as The Premack Principle and ‘informally’ known as Grandma’s Law. Love the second one! If you have ever said to your child something like "finish your maths assignment and then you can have 30 minutes computer time", then you've been using the Premack Principle.
I like to refer to this strategy as 'First and Then' and I strongly recommend it sits right at the top of your behavioural management toolbox. Why? Because it is a simple and efficient means of letting your child know that what they want is in the near future but, before they get access to it, they will need to complete a required task beforehand. The best way to explain this procedure is that something your child wants (a reinforcing item or activity) is dependent on them completing a task which likely has a low probability of occurring and will result in a rise in your cortisol levels!
There are some things kids love to do because they find them reinforcing and there are other things that are not so reinforcing. In ABA, they are commonly known as high preference and low preference activities. What this means is that if there is an activity you know your child engages in voluntarily, it's highly likely that it will make an effective reinforcer for an activity they're not keen to engage in. Sometimes the item that is most reinforcing to a child is right there - you and your attention, TV, the iPad, computer, food. Ensure you always involve your child in the process of choosing what they want to earn.
For this strategy to work effectively, access to the chosen reinforcers must be restricted in some way. For example, a child who is on the iPad for most of the day will not be that motivated to respond to your demand when they know they can have that iPad at any old time.
'First and Then' is useful for many situations and can be carried out anytime, anywhere. Love these portable strategies! I have used it for eating issues, when I need help around the house, difficulties with controlling computer or TV time and, one very common issue - homework.
The other vital piece of advice when using this strategy is stay strong and consistent with implementation and ALWAYS follow through with the 'Then' component. It may be tough to begin with because there will probably be those children who love to negotiate a deal. Don't let them coerce you into cutting a deal. YOU are in control of what is required and the resulting consequence, not them.
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E. & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis. (2nd ed., pp. 271). New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.
Mayer, G., Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Wallace, M. (2014). Behavior analysis for Lasting Change. (3rd ed., pp. 98 - 99). New York: Sloan Publishing.