Reinforcement gone wrong.
We LOVE to reward our kids for good behavior and tell them how awesome they are. We love seeing them happy and calm. Sometimes give the learner a wanted item during or right after calm and happy behavior because we what that behavior to happen again. We LOVE calm, happy kids.
But….sometimes we accidentally make an undesirable behavior more likely to happen in the future depending on when and how we give the desired item. Here are two short stories. One is using reinforcement correctly and the other is not. See if you can tell which one describes reinforcement and which describes a bribe?
Story A) Your little adorable guy is in the grocery store and all of the sudden spots an item he wants. You can hear it and all the whining. “I waaannt thaaat suucker!” You say no, stop asking for things. I don’t like your whining. You turn down isle 3 and it happens again….more I wants and more whining. And so it goes…he whines, you say no, he sees something else, whines and you say no. You are beat! With exasperation you say “fine…..if you are good for the whole rest of the time in the store you can have a sucker.”
Story B) Your adorable sweet princess has had a really difficult time in the grocery store recently. She whines constantly to get one yummy snack after the other ALL THE TIME and sometimes she goes as far as a full on scream fest where if feels like everyone is staring right at you. Still in the car you make a plan with your doll. Sweetie, there are so many yummy things we can choose from in the store. When you see something yummy you can tell me it is yummy looking and I bet I’ll agree (nodding head)!! If you want to choose one yummy snack to take home you may…. but…. only after we have every thing on daddy’s list. You cannot ask me for anything when we are finding the things on daddy’s list. You can show me what looks yummy but no asking (shaking head no). When we are all done with daddy’s list it is your turn to tell me what yummy thing you want to buy. Ok! “Ok daddy!” So, what are the rules? No asking until daddy’s list is all done. You tell me the rule. “No asking till daddy list done.” If you ask what happens? “No choose yummy snack”. You are right. Are you ready to shop?
So…which was reinforcement and which was a bribe? Do you know? Ill tell you that it all depends on when the enticing item, activity, attention, praise etc is ‘promised.’ If you have clear rules at the onset of a routine about what behavior will be paid and when, this is reinforcement. If you find yourself dealing with disruptive behavior then making a promise in exchange for good behavior this is bribery. The procedure for reinforcement allows a positive behavior to be strengthened. The procedure of bribery allows the learner to increase the number of opportunities available to receive preferred items or activities by acting in an undesirable way.
Story A is an example of a bribe. The learner has gained access to you offering that preferred item after undesirable behavior has happen. You have increased the likelihood the learner will engage in whining and requesting in the grocery store in the future.
Story B is an example of reinforcement. The learner was given clear rules at the onset of the routine, informing them of the behavior that will be paid and when. This story even went farther and added a replacement behavior to whining/asking. She was still able to talk about the yummy looking things with her daddy but she was not allowed to whine or ask for one until daddy’s list was all done. Following these method the child behavior of talking with her father about what she in the store will strengthen (there by reducing the opportunity to whine and ask repeatedly).
Tell us a time when you accidentally used Bribe and how you could change it to reinforcement in the future.