Setting things up for better behavior…or worse?

Photo by Ray Bouknight via Flickr

Photo by Ray Bouknight via Flickr

“This child just cannot sit still”

It was my first year of graduate school and my first behavior analysis professor asked the class what seemed to be a fairly easy question regarding a student’s behavior. She said,

Johnny cannot sit still in his seat. He is always fidgeting, and moving around. What would you do?

Take a moment and think about what you might have said…

As I remember, the common responses were something like this:

“Reinforce him for sitting calmly in his seat”

“Give him stickers for sitting, and do it a lot at first”

“Praise him when he sits still…tell him how good he is doing”

“When he is wiggling in his seat, tell him how to sit nicely”

There might have even been a response of “just ignore it…”

The professor had a lesson to teach and it is a lesson I would like to share today.

She showed a picture of a seat filled with thumbtacks.

Gasps went around the room as heads went down because we had not asked the right question before we jumped to the conclusion about what to do. Obviously, the question was hypothetical and the picture was not from a real classroom, but the point was made.

What is it about our environments that make us more or less likely to behave in one way or another?

Hot or cold? Loud or quiet? Cramped or open?

Sick or well? Uncomfortable or comfortable? Tired or rested?

Engaged or bored? Confused or clear? Too difficult or too easy?

Predictable or abrupt? Consistent or inconsistent?

A lot of things ultimately make our behavior predictable (there are very common responses to some environments). There are a lot of things in our environments that make bad behavior more likely or good behavior less likely.

Have you paid attention to these things recently with your child’s behavior or have you simply waited for the behavior to occur and either punished it or rewarded it?

Are you relying on the promise of a sticker or a weekly trip for an ice cream to overcome the challenges your child faces?

Do you have too many toys in your house/child’s room that ultimately result in horrific cleaning up experiences (or worse yet, get thrown during tantrums)? Reduce what is available (you know there is a ton of stuff in there that never gets played with, but contributes to the mess).

Do you have things around the house that are often the source of you saying, “I told you not to touch that,” or “I told you not to play with that?” Remove them or put them somewhere else.

Do you have problems getting out of the house, and are always in a hurry? (The suggestion here is if the answer is “yes,” you might need to prepare yourself more instead of constantly rush your kids because you can’t get your act together).

Do you wait too late to get rooms cleaned up, baths taken, teeth brushed? Start earlier. Dont wait until the witching hour to do these high demand things.

Do you have consistent routines for essential times of the day? (AM routines, meal-time routines, night-time routines?) How can you change them?

There are so many things that go on in all of our lives that make us behave better…and just as many things that make us more likely to behave poorly. Many of these things you can control and change.

Take a look around. Assess your routines. Think about your problem areas. Ask yourself the question, “If I could fix one part of the day for my child’s behavior, what would it be?” What is it about that part of the day that might make him or her a mess? Change it. Do something about it.

Personal note: We just recently fixed a pretty serious, day-long behavior problem with our 5 year old by cleaning up the morning routine. A simple solution during a 30-minute part of the day directly affected his behavior (and ours) for the rest of the day.

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