Behavioral interventions go far beyond a spanking to change poor behavior. The development of behavior modification completely changed the way people think about children’s motivation to behave, or our own, for that matter.
You are applying behavior modification techniques each time you set goals for yourself. Each time you go on a diet, or go to the gym, or leave home earlier to avoid having to speed to the office. And of course, they are applied on a daily basis for your child’s academics.
Regardless of their methods of research, scientists and psychologists were able to develop techniques that teachers, tutors, and behavior strategists still use today, decades later. Jay Belsky, a psychology professor, states, “We now have a better idea why rewards work better than punishment with pre-adolescent children.”
Reinforcement and punishment are two of the main approaches to behavioral interventions to improve your child’s academics.
Types of Behavioral Interventions
The two main ways to apply behavioral interventions to improve your child’s academics are through reinforcement and punishment. A common misconception about these intervention types is that one method is always better than another. In reality, however, they function in different ways and guide behavior in different directions.
There is one other way to shape behavior called extinction, though it should be done only if reinforcement and punishment have not yet worked, and only if you are confident that you can apply it correctly.
Reinforcement for Behavioral Interventions
Reinforcement more commonly knows as rewards, increase the chance that a behavior will occur more in the future. It can occur through the child coming into contact with a desirable consequence or having a negative consequence taken away.
An example of delivering a desirable consequence would be giving the child praise after completing an assignment.
On the other hand, an example of taking away a negative consequence would be to give them a one get-out-of-chores day for finishing their assignment.
They both increase the chance of them completing their homework in the future, though they do it through different strategies.
Punishment for Behavioral Interventions
Punishment decreases the likelihood that a behavior will occur in the future. It can occur by delivering an undesirable consequence or taking away a positive consequence.
An example of delivering an undesirable consequence would be getting scolded or yelled at when the child receives a bad grade.
An example of taking away a positive consequence is if you were to take away their access to video games because they received a bad grade.
Again, one adds an experience (getting scolded) while the other removes an experience (the chance to play video games).
Concerns Over Behavioral Interventions
Now there are some concerns over these kinds of methods, so I would like to address the elephant in the room. Maybe you are one of the parents that believe that children shouldn’t be rewarded for doing what is expected of them. And to some extent, you’re right.
However, their brains are still developing, so they do need some help and encouragement. Children are hard-wired to prefer the “here-and-now” rather than the “later”. And if they’ve been in the situation before where something was promised to them but wasn’t given, they may not trust that “you can play games after homework” will actually happen!
If this is where you and your child are in your relationship, I highly encourage you to take a step back and work on your relationship with your child. If you are in a bad place, anything coming from you will be disregarded, whether or not it should be.
Instead, take a step back and work on building your relationship. Then, when you give them negative feedback, they will understand that your goal is to help them, not just be their enemy.
I spend a significant portion of time with both my consulting clients and my Clever Kid Curriculum members discussing how to best develop this personal relationship, and the feedback I always get is that it just makes everything so much easier moving forward and especially when the time comes to actually improve your child’s academics.
There are several different approaches to behavior modification. Some parents and educators emphasize the use of praise for positive behavior. While this is the best way to teach young children, some studies have shown that adolescents can learn from negative feedback as well. Thanks to brain imagery, behavior experts have been able to verify that brain processing is far more involved in mature minds. Therefore, adolescents are more receptive to accepting praise and learning experiences, even the negative ones.
At the end of the day, reinforcement shows children what you want from them, while punishment only shows them that what they did is not acceptable. However, it does not show them a better alternative. Therefore, even if you choose to implement punishment procedures, it is always recommended that they are used together with something rewarding to increase good behavior as well.
For example, a child is inherently needing the fun stimulation or social interaction that comes from playing video games. You scold them for playing games when they should be doing their homework. That is a perfectly fine way to decrease their chances of playing during homework time. However, if they don’t have an alternate time to play and get that fun time, they may choose to risk the punishment and play anyway.
Strategic Effects of Modifying Behavior
While data-driven methods work inside the scientist’s lab, you need specific strategies to use at home. With consistency and proven methods, you can start changing your child’s behavior and therefore improve your child’s academics. Whether or not you have positive reinforcers at home such as reward systems to help, you also need a behavior program to assist you if and when the going gets tough.
Remember that young children are more likely to change behavior with positive reinforcement and praise. However, adolescents sometimes become defiant as they struggle with becoming independent. At this moment, you will need a larger variety of strategies to cope with those challenging situations.
Even behavioral experts suggest that the battle of behavior modification is not easy. You will surely have tense moments of tantrums and disagreements and so, you will need ways to cope with your own stress and develop methods of self-care.
After all, how can you help your children when you are exhausted and stressed? It is not always possible and will lead to quicker burnout as a parent.
Find ways to change your perspective on behavioral interventions and when you allow those methods to change your outlook, you will also inspire your children to change for the better.
Implement procedures for a positive behavioral program
You cannot do it alone. Get help from those around you that care about applying behavioral interventions to improve your child’s academics. The process is different for everyone.
That is when you need additional support.
When you enroll in a guided program, you can learn many different lessons, such as why some techniques work for one child but not the other. As you seek out the best methods to help improve your child’s academics, try to find support groups. In many instances, online courses offer support groups you can access in order to ask questions or for moral support.
Implementing behavior programs with different strategies such as reinforcement and punishment can help children with self-awareness and achievement. Don’t feel stressed and frustrated when it comes to behavior issues or the ongoing work to improve your child’s academics, instead seek help and work with your child, instead of against them.