In my previous post, I promised I would describe how to use differential reinforcement to make extinction as effective as possible. The goal of differential reinforcement is to increase desirable behavior, while decreasing undesirable behavior. Here are some examples:
- Decrease biting for attention and increase saying, “Look at me, Mom!”
- Decrease hitting peers and increase asking nicely for a turn.
- Decrease yelling inside and increase using a quiet voice.
Whenever there is a replacement behavior, teach that behavior and reinforce it. This will make the extinction process faster and more effective.
There are times when behaviors cannot be replaced. In these cases, differential reinforcement can still be used. Instead of reinforcing an alternative behavior, you will essentially be reinforcing not engaging in the target behavior for a specific amount of time. For example, let’s say your child shrieks in a restaurant repeatedly. Choose a favorite treat or toy to use as a reinforcer. Make sure to withhold your chosen reinforcer at all other times to keep it motivating for your child.
Set a timer for a small amount, such as 30 seconds – 1 minute. When the timer goes off, if your child hasn’t shrieked for the entire period of time, reinforce them with the reinforcer you chose. If you don’t want to use a timer, you can just reinforce various periods of not engaging in the target behavior. Gradually, you can increase the amount of time until your child is able to sit through the entire meal without the behavior.
Make sure that your reinforcement matches the behavior. For small amounts of time, keep the amount of reinforcement low. For example, sitting quietly for a minute should only equal a minute on the iPad, not an entire hour. Sitting quietly for half an hour shouldn’t be followed by just one minute on the iPad. Make your reinforcement worth it!
Some important things to remember about using differential reinforcement with extinction:
- Be careful not to reinforce an entire chain of behavior. For example, if you are putting shouting for juice on extinction and differentially reinforcing asking nicely, you may run into the following scenario:
- Your child screams for juice.
- You remind him, “You need to ask nicely for juice.”
- Your child says, “May I have juice please?”
- You provide juice.
The next time your child wants juice, he may go through the entire sequence again of engaging in the inappropriate behavior, waiting for your prompt, and correcting his behavior.
This is a very hard chain to break. To avoid it, make sure you only correct your child’s inappropriate behavior reactively one or two times. Then, ignore the chain even if he corrects his own behavior and only reinforce engaging in the appropriate behavior the first time.
Try to be proactive about it. If you know a time is coming up when the behavior is likely to occur, remind him before the behavior (“Remember, when you get thirsty, you can say ‘I want some juice please.’”)
- Do not label the negative behavior. Make sure you bring no attention to the inappropriate behavior that you are trying to extinguish. Don’t tell your child why they aren’t earning reinforcement. For example, if your child shrieks in the restaurant, do not say “Now you don’t get your skittles because you shrieked.”
- Provide behavior specific praise for appropriate behaviors. For the shrieking in restaurants example, if your child does not shriek for the set amount of time, tell them, “I love how you are sitting quietly, you get to play on the iPad for a minute.” Label the appropriate behavior.
- Be proactive! Remind your child of the appropriate behaviors before the undesirable ones happen. Practice and highly reinforce appropriate behaviors.
Thanks for stopping by! As always, ask questions if you have them!
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