Changing What Children Do – Behavior Modification

If a child lives with approval, he learns to live with himself. Dorothy Law Nolte.

Have you ever thought about why you do the things you do? Why do you teach? Is it because you like children? Is it because you’re following in one of your parents’ footsteps? Or is it because you didn’t get into law school and teaching was your second choice? Whatever your reasons, you’re getting something positive out of teaching, and this is motivating you to do it. This illustrates the bottom-line principle of behavior modification: you do activities which are reinforcing to you, and you avoid activities which are not reinforcing to you.

Also, your behavior can be changed by altering circumstances, events, or persons in your environment. You can be given reasons for doing or not doing something. For instance, your principal could encourage you to come one hour early to school by giving you something you want; more money, for instance. In this case the consequences of your behavior are being altered. Your principal also could change the antecedents, what happens prior to your behavior, by giving you a wake-up call one hour earlier than your normal wake-up time.

How would your principal measure success? Simple, by looking at whether you come to work one hour early or not, and comparing it to what you did before the changes were made. What matters is what you do, not what you think or feel. Almost rolling out of bed early doesn’t count.

Behavior modification is a now-oriented therapy. What you do now is important, not what you did two years ago. Pieces of information about what you were like before–arriving to work late every Friday morning, for instance–does not cloud perceptions of what you are capable of doing now.

You practise behavior modification every day, only you may not think of it as behavior modification. Making two boys stay after school for fighting on the playground, letting children go out for recess only after their desks are straightened, are examples of casual behavior modification techniques, which work in managing most problem behaviors in your classroom.

Some children, however, need more than the casual approach. They need hard-core behavior modification. This is when the school psychologist asks you to give Daphne a sticker along with a “Way to go Daphne!” after every 15 minutes she doesn’t swear in class, and to keep track of her progress with baselines, daily, weekly, and monthly totals, and to display her progress on a large star chart which nobody has to strain too hard to see. This is when behavior modification is called behavior modification. This is when you need to know what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.