Give me a high, give me a low!
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
"The consequences of an act affect the probability of its occurring again" - B.F. Skinner .
Wise words from Mr Skinner! One of the main things I love about Applied Behaviour Analysis is that it is science-based. Many, like B. F. Skinner, have gone before us and systematically observed, reliably measured, and replicated the effectiveness of behavioural procedures. This depth of understanding is what makes the practice of ABA such a valuable and effective practice for achieving socially significant behaviour change.
Positive outcomes are something we all seek for ourselves, whether it's passing an exam, baking a cake that rises or having our children comply with a request without a battle. I know that when I experience a positive outcome I feel good. And because I feel good, I am more inclined to do the same thing in the future to ensure I contact the same positive reinforcement again.
Think about when you've asked your child to do something for you. What has the outcome been? Was it positive or downright negative? Were you successful at asking your child to complete the task? Or was it a major battle with no winners, just a lot of unpleasantness lingering in the air? I know many of my outcomes have consisted of the latter. It normally goes like this - "get in the bath tub" swiftly moving to a screaming tantrum because my child is avoiding getting in the bath tub. Oh yes, you say, I'm familiar with that unpleasant experience!!!
So, here's a behavioural procedure that you may find useful for those unpleasant moments when your child has dug their heels in and refuses to comply with a given instruction. It's called the High-Probability Request sequence or the High P Low P request sequence. Say whaat???
The High Probability Request sequence is a procedure often used when you need your child to complete a task or instruction. Could be getting homework done, getting dressed or picking up toys. There is a low probability of these types of tasks being completed. This procedure involves the teacher or parent presenting a series of between 3 to 5 easy to follow high probability requests for which the child has a history of compliance. What do these high probability requests look like? Could be many simple, short and easy to achieve tasks like touching their nose, a high five, running on the spot, clapping, doing a wiggle dance or growling like a lion. Just think 'fun' and what you know your child is highly likely to comply with. These requests are delivered fairly rapidly followed immediately with powerful and positive reinforcement for each compliance. Reinforcement could be in the form of verbal praise, hugs, high fives, dancing on the spot or some cheering. Use whatever form of positive reinforcement you know your child responds well to.
Once your child has complied with the sequence of high probability requests you’ve given, it's time to immediately add in the low probability request. What does a low probability request look like? This is the request or instruction that you need your child to comply with. I have provided an example script below to illustrate how to do the sequence.
Typical Instruction sequence
Parent: "touch your nose" (high - p request)
Child: touches nose
Parent: "Good job!!" "High five" (high - p request)
Child: slaps parent's hand
Parent: dancing and cheering on the spot "take this duck and throw it in the bath" (high - p request)
Child: takes duck and throws it in the bath
Parent: "Woohoo, you rock!!! Now step in the bath and let's save that ducky!!!" (low - p request)
Child: Climbs into the bath
This procedure may take a lot of practice and persistence for parents to master and that's ok, keep at it, be creative and remember - you're the one in control. Always be sure to vary your requests and don't use the same sequence each time because it will weaken the effectiveness of the procedure. And, above all, reinforcement is essential to the success of this procedure!!!
What I want to stress here, as I do in all my blogs, is that parenting is downright one of the hardest jobs in the world, so please don't be hard on yourself. You're not a bad parent. Your little ones don't come with a manual. Mostly we're just using what we've learnt from our prior experiences. Many of those prior experiences could be what we learnt from our own parents or carers, and I'm sure for many people, those experiences were not always positive.
There is so much assistance out there to guide you along a more positive path as a parent by using simple scientific evidence based strategies. The High Probability Request sequence is just one of many. Stay with me as I share more along the way. You've got this!!!
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E. & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis. (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.
Mayer, G., Sulzer-Azaroff, B., & Wallace, M. (2014). Behavior analysis for Lasting Change. (3rd ed., pp. 486). New York: Sloan Publishing.