The ideas behind behavior modification for children go back at least as far as concepts written about in the early 1900’s by Edward Thorndike. Understanding and applying these ideas has grown and changed through research conducted by a number of psychologists and behavioral analysts since. B.F. Skinner, one of the most widely known proponents of behavior modification techniques, discussed the concepts in his works on operant conditioning.
Basically, behavior modification for children applies parenting techniques that attempt to mold, or shape, a child’s behavior through reinforcement or the lack of it.
Proponents claim that, behavior modification strategies for children can result in:
* Fairly rapid behavior change.
* More appropriate behaviors and fewer inappropriate behaviors.
* Greater clarity of understanding between parents and children.
Critics claim that these parenting techniques can lead to:
* A significant negative impact on the parent-child relationship.
* Robbing children of internal motivation by teaching them to respond only to external motivation.
* Teaching children to “game the system” by behaving appropriately only when rewarded.
As parents, we have found that a balanced application of behavior modification techniques can work incredibly well when you are working to teach your child how to behave appropriately. We have also found that total reliance on behavior modification techniques without blending other concepts into your parenting can create the negative results cautioned about by critics of the approach.
In order to gain the benefits of applying behavior modification for children while minimizing the potential negative implications, we recommend that you understand the common mistakes that parents make and what you can do to avoid making them.
Behavior Modification Mistake #1 – Over reliance on a single technique to teach your child.
We have seen many well-intentioned parents attempt to implement a “technique” as a way to teach their children without taking the time to really understand why the techniques works, when the technique works, and in what context the technique works. We have found that no technique works in every situation. Some work well one time and not so well at a different time.
In order to avoid this mistake, we recommend two specific actions.
1) Focus primarily on your relationship with your child.
No technique will replace a strong, influence based relationship with your child. Absent the relationship, techniques become control strategies rather than influence strategies.
2) Learn the principle that lies behind the technique.
Every technique that works is based on some key principle applied within certain parameters and in a certain context. When you understand the underlying principles, you can adjust the technique as the situation calls for it rather than rigidly applying it to every event.
Behavior Modification Mistake #2 – Inconsistent application.
If you decide that you want to apply behavior modification techniques with your children, decide to apply them consistently. If you
* Change the rules frequently, or
* Only apply the techniques when you have the energy,
you will get bad results.
In order to gain the greatest positive benefit from behavior modification techniques, you need to consistently apply them. As you work to consistently apply the techniques, balance your effort to be consistent with a solid understanding of the principles behind the techniques that you are applying. (Remember point number two under Behavior Modification Mistake #1!)
Behavior Modification Mistake #3 – Expecting results too quickly.
If you are working with your child to change an undesirable behavior, remember that they probably developed the undesirable behavior because they received some kind of reward (from their perspective, not yours) for that behavior. So, changing that behavior will require that they learn to expect a different outcome. In this case, learning something new will require them to unlearn something else. Give them some time to adjust, focus on your relationship, and remain consistent.
We are not psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, or social workers. We do not claim to be expert in every area of understanding this topic. We are simply parents and business professionals who have studied and applied what we have learned along the way. We know what has worked for us, and we offer these suggestions in the hopes that our lessons will help you as well.
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