Pinky swears and cherries on top…


There is a simple behavior principle taught in textbooks and classrooms called the “Premack principle.” In textbook terms it states fairly simply: high frequency behavior can be used as reinforcers for low frequency behavior.  Alright, enough of the textbooks, here is the lesson:

 In terms of getting the best out of your kids, the behaviors that are least likely to occur (chores, teeth brushing, homework, getting dressed for school) need to occur BEFORE behaviors that are more likely to occur (video games, watching TV, playing outside, etc).  It is about using those preferred activities as natural reinforcers for the unpreferred or less desirable activities.  In other words, the “pinky swears” and “cherries on top” promises of “I will do my homework when I’m done watching SpongeBob” can be bad news.  The Premack principle would suggest you would do better if “as soon as you finish your homework, you can watch SpongeBob” (another reason I love DVR, by the way).  We have talked about this before in terms of controlling access to SpongeBob so you can say that and get the best out of Dr. Premack’s finding.

 My suggestions to families is to set up their schedules and their routines to take advantage of these things.  Set up the afternoons so the preferred things can come after all the things that need to be done.  Homework, dinner, chores somewhere in there, THEN preferred stuff.  Get everything you can get done before the preferred things.   It doesn’t matter that the shower is done and teeth are brushed right before going to bed, …just as long as they don’t eat anything or roll in the mud as a part of the preferred activities.  This frees you incredibly.

 Oh, and one last point.  What happens when SpongeBob is over?  You are in the same place with the homework is where you started.  Now what?  You have nothing but a sore pinky and rotten cherries.

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