We have spent the first part of this course on increasing appropriate behaviors. This focus has been intentional. Step-In Parenting looks at childhood as a time for exploration and development. Children use trial and error to find out what works in this crazy world. Intentional reinforcement helps us help them learn the appropriate behaviors. Unintentional reinforcement and, sometimes, automatic reinforcement are important for us to be aware of in order to minimize situations where the child learns that an inappropriate behavior is the ‘right choice’. But it does happen, then what do we parents do?
This is where replacement behaviors come in. As parents, we can look at the behavior and determine its purpose (or function). Then we are able to provide a more appropriate behavior to meet that need.
Little 2-year-old Cutie is eating at the table with you. She has some peas, chicken, and noodles on the plate. Cutie takes a bite of the chicken and does not like the taste. She then picks up another bite of chicken and drops it on the floor, successfully removing it from her plate. Quickly catching on to her distaste for the chicken, you slide your napkin over to her and help her put one piece of chicken on the napkin (also removing the chicken from her plate). You praise her for putting the chicken on the napkin (adding a bit of reinforcement). This added praise makes putting the chicken on the napkin more fun than dropping it on the floor. Cutie continues to put all the chicken on the napkin and you smile and praise her some more.
Here, cutie is wanting to have the chicken go away. Dropping on the floor is kind of fun, gets rid of the chicken, and doesn’t take a whole lot of effort on her behalf. As the parent, having the food dropped to the floor is not fun and means more clean-up duty for you (or Fido). Instead, offering her a different way to get rid of the chicken that is still low-effort and adding in a bit of fun social praise means that she will likely choose to go for the new replacement behavior (it meets all of her current needs). Replacement behaviors help your child meet his or her needs in a more appropriate way.