What To Do First When Changing Teenager’s Behavior-Part III

This is the third in a three-part series of articles. Please read
the first two and have your list of behaviors handy before reading this
article.
To continue, these are some of the many complaints and categories I
hear about from parents. There are a lot more categories and infinitely
more negative behaviors to be put in the right column. All have a
positive opposite variant that goes in the left column.
Now, what do you do with “the list?” First, we’re mostly going to
work with the list on the left side. Rank order the list; that is, think
about which of these positive behaviors you most want or is most important.
Or, you can look at the list on the right side and pick those negative
behaviors that you really want to “go away.” Either will tell you which
of the many behaviors in either column are most important. Figure out
which behavior is number one and rank it accordingly (put a “1” next to it…).
Choose another to be number two; that is, which behavior is not quite as
important as the number one behavior, but presumably is still important
enough to be number two. Work your way down the page, creating a ranked or prioritized list, ending with the positive behavior that is still positive, but relatively speaking, least important.
Remember the terms first described in previous articles? Go back and re-read the definition of “Reinforcer.” What we’re going to do is start “reinforcing” only the positive behaviors, starting with the top three that you prioritized in the left column. When I say reinforce, I mean to provide a positive experience or reward after you see the positive behavior. Right about here some parents say, “I don’t see any positive behavior–that’s the problem!” I know, I know. But in actuality, there are always some positive behaviors to work with. Parents are usually so frustrated they don’t admit it. If you don’t see the full-blown behavior, don’t worry. Go back and review the meaning of the term “Shaping,” also described in a previous article. What you want to do is positively reinforce only the positive behavior, or its’ precursor; that is, the very beginnings of the behaviors, to start training your teenager to eventually produce the full-blown behavior. Here’s an example. Let’s use yelling again. When you see your teen talking quietly, you’re going to provide some positive reward. S/he never stops yelling? Not likely, even though it sometimes seems like this is the case. Sooner or later every person, no matter how young or old will
wind down and actually speak in civil tones at a respectable volume. It might take a week, but watch and be patient. When s/he does, you got ’em! (Chance favors the prepared mind…) Your job is to be ready and reinforce the behavior with something positive. From another previous article, re-read the description of “Contingencies.” We want to be very aware of your teen’s first attempts at good behaviors, then present some kind of reward–right away (immediacy), to do it every time (consistency) and with the same kind of reinforcer each time (constancy). Start with small examples of the positive behavior and keep at it.
Now, what will work as a positive reinforcer? Usually this should be a compliment, or hug, or touch. For very immature twelve year olds, you can also use a sticker or star and place it on a chart. This ebook is not about younger kids; so, if this is your situation, refer to my other ebook, How To Change Children’s Behavior (Quickly). For most teenagers, the rewards will have to be different, because they are no longer younger children. The idea is to figure out what is positive for your teenager and deliver that after you see a good behavior. You can do this in a classical conditioning sense; that is, by telling your teen, “If you do this, you will get this,” then delivering the reward as promised, right away (immediacy), every time (consistency) and with the same kind of reward (constancy). Your teenager knows what’s coming because you set up a positive expectation and then you deliver. Classical conditioning! Pretty soon you promise and your teen changes the behavior without yet getting the reward (in anticipation), just like Pavlov’s dog began to salivate in anticipation of the meat powder when Pavlov rang the bell beforehand. I know we’re not animals, but the principles work with everyone–you promise, they change behavior, you provide the reward.
Or, you can apply the same principles without forewarning, just after the behaviors have occurred. This is when you look for one or more little behaviors that are in the right direction and then apply the reinforcers as described above under “contingencies” (immediately, consistently and constantly). Again, because it’s not foreshadowed and occurs in real life (outside of the Pavlov’s laboratory), it’s called operant conditioning–same reinforcement principles, different venue, no experimenter in a white coat.
–Dr. Griggs
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