Reinforce, not bribe
One of the most difficult concepts that many parents struggle with is the use of reinforcement vs. bribery. First consider when the item/activity is presented. Has a behavior occurred that you want to see more of? Is there something happening that you are trying to make stop? These questions can help you decide if your technique is utilizing reinforcement or using bribery.
I was at the store and saw a little something for my Little Miss at home. She had stayed home with Daddy and they have been having a good day. When I get home, I am excited to give Little Miss her treat, and have it ready in my hand. When I open the door, Little Miss is loudly crying. Daddy had asked her to pick up the puzzle she was playing with and Little Miss is not very happy about it. I hold out the treat and say “I have something for you. First pick up the puzzle and you will get it.”
Though my intentions were sound, this scenario outlines a bribe instead of reinforcement. In this scenario, I wanted Little Miss to stop crying and follow her Daddy’s instruction of picking up the puzzle. I had a powerful reinforcer literally in my hand, so I attempted to put it to use. However, in order to begin the process of Little Miss getting back on track, I interrupted her behavior with the item identified as a reinforcer. Essentially, the item was presented WHILE she was engaging in behaviors that I was not interested in seeing more of. Even though I presented it with an instruction, the presentation came during the episode of the behavior. This MAY increase the tantrum behavior rather than the cleaning up behavior since the tantrum was the precursor to the presentation of the new treat. Let’s tweak the scenario a bit and see the difference:
I was at the store and saw a little something for my Little Miss at home. She had stayed home with Daddy and they have been having a good day. When I get home, I am excited to give Little Miss her treat, and have it ready in my hand. When I open the door, Little Miss is loudly crying. Daddy had asked her to pick up the puzzle she was playing with and Little Miss is not very happy about it. I quickly place the treat out of sight and get down with her helping her follow through Daddy’s instruction. Hand over hand at first, together we place a few pieces into the toy box. She begins to put forth more effort so I praise her and begin to back away. As she takes over the process on her own Daddy praises her and I quietly hand Daddy the treat to hand to her. The moment she is picking up the pieces without a fit, Daddy presents her the new treat.
Here, instead of interrupting the crying with the offer of the treat I waited for her to begin to engage in the behavior I wanted to see more of. Then allowed Daddy (who originally asked her to clean up) to interrupt the cleaning behavior with the treat. This little change can make a big difference with regard to which behavior increases.
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