Behavioral Momentum…ride the wave to more compliance

“Heading into the final weeks before the race, it seems Mr. Soandso has the momentum that will likely take him to the promised land”

There are so many ways we speak about momentum in our lives. You can hardly get through 15 minutes of Olympics coverage or, gag, the “Race to the Presidency” coverage without some mention of who has the “momentum.”

Momentum is an incredibly important and real factor with the behavior of your kids too, and is a bit more scientific than the sometimes mythical version you hear elsewhere. It is a strategy…a way to get from noncompliance to compliance. Simple, if you really think about it, but not used enough as far as I can see.

Compliance breeds compliance – Remember this and put it on your refrigerator

In the behavioral world, we use reinforcement of small moments of compliance to make compliance with larger demands more likely. Around your house with your kids, that means getting the ball rolling and having some positive exchanges with your kid by setting up moments when compliance with simple things is reinforced before dropping a bombshell request such as “clean up your room,” “put your toys up,” or “take a bath.”

Even something as simple as getting and reinforcing a verbal response from your kid before delivering a more demanding request can serve to make compliance with the request more likely.

Here are two stories…which one uses behavioral momentum?

Johnny’s room is a mess. Johnny’s parents are tired of that mess and enter the room and say, “Johnny, this room needs to be clean before you can watch TV tonight or play outside.” Johnny’s parents leave. Johnny sits and mopes. Parents return distressed and frustrated. “Not a single sock off the floor? I guess you will be staying in here until it is done, no matter how long it takes.”


Johnny’s room is a mess. Johnny’s parents are tired of that mess and enter the room and say, “Hey, man…what’s up? Did you have a good day at school today? Great! Hey, would you mind grabbing that book right by you and handing that to me so I can put it on the shelf? Thanks. And those shoes? Great, thanks. Hey, while we are at it, would you mind putting those trains where they go? Awesome. Hey, as soon as you get those shirts and pants up and make sure your bed is made you can come watch TV or play outside? Cool? Cool.”

Do you see how that works? Do you see that in the second story the demands got larger and larger? Early compliance was reinforced (a simple statement of “great,” or “thanks” is all it takes) then the larger demands were placed in there. Sometimes high-fives are more necessary, but the point is to start small, knowing where you are going and making sure you have a good reinforcer at the end.

I have seen the dramatic effects of this many times. Something a kid would never have done, gets done easily because some simple behavioral momentum was built before asking for the real thing. We do this on purpose because it makes our lives easier.

Try this…I think you might build some momentum of your own.

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