Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D & Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA
Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA
Brett DiNovi & Associates
Parents are often faced with problem behaviors while trying to accomplish necessary everyday tasks such as running errands. In a recent video by Brett DiNovi & Associates, LLC, Heather Nunziato, BCBA breaks down a video of this exact situation and gives practical tips from the science of behavior that can prevent these tantrums.
In the video example, a family of four was in the car on the way to run an errand to the store Michael’s. The son was in the back seat repeatedly and loudly stating that he wanted to go to GameStop. The son was shouting nonstop in the car and arguing with the parents. The dad, in turn, was arguing back with the son.
Vicarious reinforcement is one possible behavior analytic strategy that could be used in such a situation, which can have spillover effects to help improve the behavior of the child who is misbehaving. In the video, the daughter was sitting appropriately in the backseat next to her brother. The parents could use vicarious reinforcement by praising the daughter for her appropriate behavior in the car in the hopes that the effect will carry over to the son who is shouting.
Vicarious reinforcement via praise will only work if praise functions as a reinforcer for the child who is having problem behavior. Behavior specific praise is key here. For example, saying “Thank you for sitting nicely. I like how quiet you are being right now.” to the daughter in the backseat specifies the precise behavior to be reinforced. This strategy also works effectively in classrooms. If one student is off-task or having inappropriate behaviors, praise the other students for being on task.
Another practical behavior analytic tip is to arrange the environment to prevent problem behavior. In the video, the parents parked directly in front of the GameStop store. Had they driven past the store and parked closer to the Michael’s they could have prevented the children from eloping and gaining access to the store that they wanted- even without the parents’ permission.
A lack of instructional control within this family meant that the children were the bosses and the dad was continuously listening to them and reinforcing their inappropriate behaviors. It is important for parents to remember: do not place a demand without following through. Otherwise, kids might learn that they can easily get away with not listening.
The parents could have also provided choices before the trip, in an effort to prevent problematic behavior during the trip. For example, “Do you want to go to Michael’s for 5 minutes or 10 minutes?” Then they could take the children to GameStop as a reinforcer for having appropriate behavior while at Michael’s.
Lastly, a disclaimer – we should point out that the suggestions in this article are merely inferences. In practice, an ABA intervention should be derived from a Functional Behavior Assessment of the behaviors in question.
To hear more, be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos. Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
bSci21Media, LLC is a leading media outlet for behavior analysis that serves to disseminate the science to the world and support behavior analytic companies around the globe. The company’s larger vision is B.F. Skinner’s vision of bringing a technology of behavior change to the world in order to address it’s biggest problems.
Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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