W5- Catching the Child in the “ACT”


In Week 3, we discussed the topic of behavior-specific praise. This week we are going to incorporate the strategy with the new technique: praising the alternative behavior.  Sometimes, parents want to simply change or get rid of behaviors that the child engages in. For example, arguing with siblings constantly, throwing a temper tantrum when told no, or not following instructions. When thinking of trying to stop a behavior, naturally we are more inclined to punish it. However, a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) will tell you to praise or reinforce alternative behavior instead.

Praising the alternative behavior is not as easy as it might sound. Simply recall the last time you praise your child when she was sitting quietly watching TV or playing nicely with siblings. You might ignore this until you are hearing them arguing then you might be inclined to yell at your child or even tell them to stop doing that. A phenomenon called negativity bias in which we have this natural instinct that forces us to notice more what is wrong in our environment because it has survival values. It makes noticing appropriate behaviors even more challenging.

To apply the technique of praising alternative behavior:

  • caregivers will need to find the behavior that they do not want first.
  • Next, find the positive behavior that can replace the behavior or identify what the opposite of the problem behavior is.
  • Now, it is time to catch the child in the “act” or being good.
  • As the child displays the positive behavior the caregivers want, behavior-specific praise will be provided.

For example, if you are trying to get rid of the behavior of the child arguing with the siblings (selecting the behavior you want to change). You would find times that the child is playing with siblings nicely ( the opposite of the problem behavior) and you could say “ Josh, it is so wonderful to see that you are playing with your sister so nicely” and give the child a gentle hug (delivering behavior-specific praise).

You might think why not just go ahead and punish the behavior? In applied behavior analysis (ABA), Punishment is always the last resort. Also, in this case, if you use punishment procedures, you only stop the problem behavior by using reprimands and not teaching the child what to do instead. Applying the technique of praising the alternative behavior will help the child to know what to do instead and by reinforcing the positive behavior, you will see more of it in the future.

For more information on the power of reinforcement check out this blog post and like our Facebook page for new content in the coming weeks.

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