Last month we talked about the “won’t do problem.” This is when a student does not engage in the behavior of interest not because he/she does not have the proper component skills to perform the task; it is because the environment is not arranged to help facilitate proper motivation to engage in the task. And remember, we never “blame” the student. The student is properly behaving with respect to his/her surrounding environmental variables. If your child knows that there are no consequences for engaging in the task, why should he/she bother to put forth the energy to complete the task?
This month, we are talking about situations where motivation is present; yet, a student may be more motivated to engage in a competing behavior instead of the one you want. For example, let’s say Amy does not refuse to complete homework and on occasion will complete her homework without asking. However, on Thursdays, it is always a fight to get her to focus on her homework because her favorite show is on at 6:00pm. She gets so distracted by even the thought of the show that her focus is rarely on her homework. You may even have a systematic behavioral plan set up at home where she earns prizes or playtime for completing her homework. But on Thursday, that plan seems to loose its power.
In this example, you wouldn’t necessarily say that Amy lacks motivation or drive to complete her homework at home. You wouldn’t necessarily say that homework time is something of which either of you are fearful. However, for one day, because of one event, Amy doesn’t resemble the “Amy during homework time” you see on any other day. On Thursdays, it is more reinforcing for Amy to simply think about the Thursday night show than it is to complete homework and receive her reinforcer for homework completion.
There are two things that you can do in this scenario: 1) find a more powerful reinforcer for homework completion on Thursday or 2) use the Premak Principle. The first solution is simple. If your student works for points that are then exchanged for various items off of a reinforcer menu (e.g., iPad time, TV time, sleepover, dessert), then Thursday can be “double points day!” Tijuana Flats has “Taco Tuesdays.” College bars have “Ladies Drink Free Thursdays.” These specials are regular incentives that help attract customers to these establishments. You can have your own special at you house! This way, you are being proactive to help avoid the inevitable endless prompts and redirections you encounter on Thursdays.
The second solution is called the Premak Principle. You probably already use Premak but have never known what it was called other than “good parenting!” This is when you make a highly preferred event (watching the Thursday TV show) contingent upon completion of a less preferred event (completing homework). Therefore, Amy does not get to watch her show until her homework is finished. Watching the TV show, although it may be a family event, shouldn’t be a “free” luxury if homework is either not completed or you have to fight tooth and nail for its completion. We all work for the luxuries in our life, and this should not be a life lesson that is learned at a later age.
Remember, it takes a village to change the life of a child. And while school and supplemental services, like Precision Teaching Learning Center, are essential in that transformation, the parent plays the most important role. Setting clear expectations for the behavior you want your student to engage in, and being consistent with the consequences (positive and negative) that follow that behavior are things that should come as second nature in your home. If you need help with setting up a behavioral system in your home, please call our office at 778-5201!