When you shape a behavior you provide reinforcement for behaviors that are incrementally closer to the targeted behavior. In other words, you reinforce the “baby steps” when teaching a new skill or behavior.
If you decided you wanted to run a 5K, but have never run a day in your life (and in fact, you seriously regret signing up.) But you decide to go for it anyway. You likely wouldn’t start by running a 5K on day 1. Instead, you might decide to just walk the distance, and then gradually start running longer and longer distances until you can run the whole thing. In this context, the reinforcement is the accomplished feeling of a good run (possibly paired with a preferred treat.) This is SHAPING.
Try using SHAPING, next time you ask your child to “clean” his or her room. My guess is the action of “cleaning your room” looks different for everyone. Decide which smaller skills (putting toys away, making a bed, hanging clothes) need to be performed in order for this task to be completed, and then reinforce successive approximations that are made until the ultimate goal is achieved.
Extinction is one of those words that we typically associate with dinosaurs, however, did you know that it’s a behavioral strategy as well?
When you put a behavior on extinction, you remove reinforcement for a behavior that you don’t want. It is important to remember that you should be simultaneously teaching and reinforcing a replacement behavior.
For example, let’s say you are working from home, and every time you get on a work call your child has a tantrum. If (at some point) this behavior got you to disconnect from your work call, the tantrum was likely reinforced.
So, what now? In order to put the tantrum behavior on extinction, you would have to IGNORE the behavior and continue on with your work call. At the same time, you might teach your child to pass you a note (or use my availability cards) during a work call instead. Then, provide them with reinforcement anytime they engage in this behavior. In time, you will likely see a decrease in tantrum behavior and an increase in the replacement behavior.
Teaching a Replacement Behavior
To decrease a challenging behavior, you must TEACH and reinforce a new skill. When children engage in challenging behaviors, the consequence, or “reaction,” they receive provides them with reinforcement.
Instead, the new skill you are teaching should get your child’s needs met faster and more efficiently than the challenging behavior. Once your child starts to use the replacement skill you taught, make sure to provide him/her with lots of behavior-specific praise to reinforce a job well done.