Reinforcement – noun, a procedure, as a reward or punishment that alters a response to a stimulus.
When we think about it, human basic needs are as follows and in no particular order: air, food, shelter, sanitation, sex, water, companionship, sleep, and personal boundaries.
It’s the human condition.
When we bring a child into this world, we really shouldn’t look at them as a clean slate; hoping to groom them to be just like us, but as a being that is genetically programmed to learn, love, and explore.
Babies and toddlers learn by trial and error and also by gauging our reactions to things, like, if a baby is sitting in a high chair and they drop their spoon on the floor, we naturally go and pick it up. And based on trial and error, they’ll do it again; just to see if we’ll pick it up for them again. And if we give them the reaction that they want, they’ll continue to do it again and again until we take the spoon away.
The same goes for positive and negative behavior in the ABA world. Reinforcement is used to increase desired behavior, with the probability that, that behavior will appear again. And by using reinforcement, your encouraging an individual to continue delivering same response as anticipated.
Are you following me here? If you’re having trouble, I’ll make it easier.
Lets say, you’re walking down the street, and someone gives you $100 just because you look good in green, your day is made! So, you do it again the next day. You walk down the same street, wearing green, and expecting someone to hand you a $100 bill. Because you were so positively reinforced the first time, you repeat the same behavior the next day. If you were handed $100 bill the next day, you’re going to repeat the same behavior as the previous day. If you were not given a $100 bill, then your motivation is gone and you’re not likely to repeat the same behavior and you did the day before.
How’s that? Does that make more sense? Excellent! I thought it would.
So the point that I’m trying to get at, is that by using positive and negative reinforcement as a form of parenting, it can either work in your favor, or blow up in your face. If you’re not consistent and mean what you say and say what you mean, then the confusion that your child will experience will lead to negative behavior. If you say to them, “if you don’t stop screaming, we’re going to leave the park right now! If you don’t follow through, your children are going to continue to take advantage of the situation, which will eventually lead to a meltdown by you.
If you say to them, “if you don’t stop screaming, we’re going to leave the park right now,” and you actually follow through by leaving the park, then your child is going to remember that, and actually pay attention to your words. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced that with my own child when out and about, and it drives me up a wall! Unless you can actually follow through with the warnings that you give, please make sure that you say what you mean and you mean what you say. I can guarantee you your child will learn quickly.
But with children on the spectrum, their basic needs are different. Of course they need air, and food, and shelter, but follow-through is one of the most important things you can do for them, and holding empty threats over their heads will only make matters worse. Like with my own child, I can’t punish him later in the day for something that he had done earlier in the morning, because A.) he won’t understand, and B.) it’s already done and over with. Here’s a good example. My son has a habit of throwing toys and he’s angry. If I punished him right away by taking something near and dear to him away in that exact moment, then an impact has been made. Like the iPad or a favorite toy. If I take something away, like going to the movies two days from now, it will have absolutely no impact on him because he won’t remember why he’s being punished in the first place. By punishing him in the moment, he understands that his basic needs are being met and that should he threw a toy again when he’s angry, will only result in losing something very important to him.
I absolutely love the person that my son is becoming. He’s smart, kind, loving, and interested in how things work. He is learning to share without being told, and he knows that should a situation occur that involves me or my husband taking something away from him, he knows it’s for a good reason. He also knows that empty threats don’t live in our house, and he also knows that he can rely on us for whatever he needs, because we don’t give him mixed signals or messages. We are a very concrete and consistent household with the understanding of clear expectations.
Basic needs ✔️ positive and negative reinforcement. ✔️✔️
Have a great Monday everyone