Kids can do all kinds of things to drive you nuts. How do you get your kids to stop screaming?
So way back in shrink school, I learned a lot about behavioral psychology and I got to tell you about this
I come in the first of the semester, I sit down with all of my colleagues were in a doctoral program and he announces to us that our grade will be based on a final exam, the final exam will be taken by a chicken and then he handed us a chicken, little baby chick and my lab partner and I, Dr. Mark Normand, a neuropsychologist in San Diego. we both passed the class.
We got this little chick and we had to train this chick over the course of the semester to perform certain tasks, to turn this way or to turn that way or to rotate her, to peck a little disc in a box. We had to train it to do all of these things that were on the final and if our chick failed, woody failed. Well we both passed the class but I learned a lot of things from that chicken.
Behavioral psychology is pretty simple, simple enough that a chicken can learn these things. Now, your kids are very different from a chicken but some of the principles are very useful as we try to answer questions like
“how do I get my kid to stop screaming?” “How do I get my kid to start cleaning his room? “
Or how do I get my kid to do his homework? All of these things can be tied back to some basic behavioral psychology principles that I’m going to share with you next.
So if you look at the board, there are two basic ways to change behavior. I’ve written reinforcement on this side of the board, punishment on this side.
Now, punishment has kind of bad reputation out there but you’re going to learn some things about punishment today that will help to bring that into perspective.
These are simply two different ways to change behavior. On the up and down side here, I’ve put a green plus sign and a red minus sign. Positive and negative, plus and minus, I’m going to tie those together because that would be important.
We can have positive reinforcement and we can have negative reinforcement. Now by negative reinforcement, I don’t mean bad reinforcement. You know I’m the positivity guy. I just mean minus, okay. We’ll come right back to that. Punishment, we can have positive punishment. Huh? That sounds weird. I’ll explain that or negative punishment which doesn’t mean bad punishment, it means minus.
So thinking about the plus and minus as adding, subtracting. So if we look at them as math symbols, it’ll make more sense. Now before we get into that, Here’s a quick definition of reinforcement and punishment.
Reinforcement increases a behavior. In other words, if you want to see more of it, you reinforce it. Got it?
Some of the behaviors your kids have you want to see more of, right? Or some of the behaviors you haven’t seen yet you’d really love to see more of. We’re going to reinforce those. Punishment decreases a behavior.
Now, I know both of these words have a reputation, let’s just simplify it and say reinforcement increases behavior, we’re going to do that if you want to see more of it. Punishment decreases behavior, we’re going to do that if you want to see less of it like misbehavior or screaming or begging or whining. Okay, you with me?
Let’s look at the plus and minus now, the add or the subtract.
Positive reinforcement, it’s when you add something in order to increase the behavior so you’re going to add something they like so this is a payoff, this is like that the reward for what they’re doing so you’d give them a treat, you give them a sticker, you give them something that they want. See, your adding something that’s a positive reinforcement and it’s tied to the behavior that you want to increase. Are you with me? This is a fun game.
Negative reinforcement, remember, negative doesn’t mean bad, it means subtract, you’re going to take away something in order to increase a behavior.
What are you going to take away? You’re going to take away something they don’t like in order to increase some behavior. You know what?
Kids are really good at this one, whining for example, okay. When your kid is whining, “Oh please. I want this.” or begging right? Pretend like you’re at the store.
“Oh please, will you buy me some candy? Please. Will you buy me some candy?”
Do you like the whining? No. What’s the kid trying to do?
Well, the kid’s trying to get you to buy him the candy, right? What does the parent do? Finally they’re like, “Oh fine. Here just take it.” They buy him the candy. What does the kid do?
Negative reinforcement, they take away something the parent doesn’t like in order to increase the behavior of buying the candy. Brilliant!! We can do it as parents too but what we’re taking away is something that the kid doesn’t want in order to increase the appropriate behavior.
Let’s go over to the punishment side now. Okay, now punishment isn’t a bad thing, remember punishment is just something that decreases a given behavior. So, in positive punishment, we’re going to add something and because we want to decrease the behavior, we’re going to add something they don’t like.
So, this is where you give them something that they don’t want as a result of whatever behavior you’re trying to decrease. Treking all this? For example, extra chores. Do they want extra chores? No but a positive punishment would be to add something that they don’t like in order to decrease any particular behavior.Okay, so they act up in some certain way, they get extra chores.
That’s an example of a positive punishment. What about negative punishment? Remember, negative doesn’t mean bad and neither does punishment. Negative means minus, subtract.
So, we’re going to take away something that they do want in order to decrease a behavior. Got it? Taking away something that they like is an example of a negative punishment and common examples of that are taking away access to games for example, electronic gaming systems.
Alright, that’s something they do want and to lose that is a negative punishment because it takes away something that they like. Now why did we go into all this detail about behavioral psychology? Because you’ve got a lot of tools as a parent.
Now let’s go back to our first question, how do you get kids to stop screaming or whining or begging? These are things you don’t want to see, you want to decrease that behavior so you’re going to use punishment, in order to decrease that behavior.
If it’s something we wanted to see more of, which one would we pick? Reinforcement, exactly. That’s why it’s important to understand the behavioral psychology. Now which punishment would be mostappropriate to decrease the screaming or the whining or the begging that you’re hearing from your kids? Here’s another little piece of child psychology.
See if you can figure out why they’re doing it. Now you’ll hear all the time “Oh, they’re doing it for attention.” Well are they? Maybe. Often it gets them what they want, often they’re putting that in there so that they can use negative reinforcement on their parent to get you to do something that they want you to do and they’ll take away the whining as soon as you do it, it’s not fair, is it?
But we’re going to turn the tables and make sure that we understand the behavioral psychology so that we can help our kids to have more appropriate behavior.
Usually, for something like screaming or begging or whining, we want to use a negative punishment by taking away the thing that they want in order to decrease that behavior. Basically you’re taking away the payoff. What if they’re doing it for attention? You may have heard the saying “Bad breath is better than no breath at all.” And for kids, that’s probably true.
They want to have that attention even if it’s not positive attention. So taking away the payoff is what often is going to decrease that behavior. You take away your attention to it, you simply ignore it.
Now here’s what’s tricky about that, it’s called the extinction curve. This is another thing I learned from a chicken. The extinction curve is when you start to ignore something, a behavior, you take away the payoff for that behavior, the kids first thought is, “Oh my gosh. I must be losing my touch. I better turn up the volume.” So they turn up the volume on you, it gets worse at first. What if you cave in right then and give them what it is that they want? Well that’s a reinforcement to them, they’re getting something that they want, they’re more likely to do that behavior again.
You got to outlast among this, sometimes that behavior will increase before it drops off. Be consistent, hang in there, you’ll see that, yeah, it’ll increase a little bit and then it’ll drop off because they’re not getting the payoff for that behavior.
Hopefully that gives you a few ideas of what you can do about the screaming, the yelling, the whining, the begging, behavioral
psychology that will give you some good tools as a parent. Wow, that’s a lot of behavioral psychology today at Parenting Cents. Hopefully you’ll find that useful and maybe you know somebody else who would benefit from this. Please share.