Sunday, May 29, 2016

Positive Reinforcement and Meaningful Consequences

I am a firm believer that both positive reinforcement and meaningful consequences need to be used when targeting certain behaviors. I have employed these methods since my little guy was two years. Obviously, the methods that we use now look a bit different. When my son was little we struggled with taking him to the grocery store. He had a particularly difficult time with staying in the grocery cart without screaming. In my opinion, going to the grocery store is a skill that I really wanted my little guy to have. I began by taking him on short trips for one item. The trips were approximately 5-10 minutes in length. I showered him with stickers for every 30 seconds to one minute that he stayed in the cart without screaming. If he began to scream he wouldn't earn a sticker. After he learned that he could earn things from being good, I started to increase the length of our trips. In addition, for really successful trips with absolutely no crying, I would buy him a prize. The prize was never anything expensive, and often looked different, but it was always meaningful.


When Bam Bam began to get older and his communication improved we began to also use meaningful consequences in addition to positive reinforcement.  Bam Bam has a behavior chart at school. I was the one that requested that a behavior chart be used on a daily basis. By employing this technique, it would allow me to reinforce his great days. In addition, my son is aware that there will be consequence if he has a particularly rough day. His chart has four different colors. Pink=outstanding, green=ready to learn, yellow=required prompting, and red=disruptive. Bam Bam earns tokens for his pink and green days. These tokens can be used to purchase items from a dollar store prize box. If he has more than two yellows and a red there is a consequence for his behavior. Consequences look differently, but they are always meaningful.

Bam Bam experienced a particularly rough couple of weeks during the winter of this year. The consequences were initially a loss of video games. After a couple of days this didn't seem to phase him. We then had Bam Bam learn how to clean out horse stalls over at my sister's house. This only worked for a couple of days, because he began to love the horses and he really enjoyed taking care of them. We then had to change it up again and we began having him start pulling weeds. He absolutely hated pulling weeds. After a couple of days of this we started to see a positive increase in his good behaviors. During Bam Bam's rough couple of weeks we also worked with his teachers and had them add in a few additional strategies. The school began using a visual schedule and also had Bam Bam track his progress on his color chart. I believe that the combination of working with the school and adding consequences that were meaningful did the trick in getting his behavior to move in a more positive direction.

Bam Bam is now at a place where this method will work. Like I said earlier, when he was less verbal, this method looked a bit different. Consequences were short time outs with a visual timer. Like I said previously, positive reinforcement often looked like multiple stickers given within a short period of time in comparison to now where one token can be used for an entire day. We have worked tirelessly to employ this method, but I am pleased to say that this method has worked exceptionally well for our family.

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