Monday, October 4, 2010

Challenging Behavior #11

I seem to be challenged by this topic of challenging behavior! Although I spend the week thinking about other interesting child development topics to share with readers, the moment I sit at the computer, the writing focuses on behavior.

This week we will explore two ways of reacting to behaviors and learn about the underlying science behind how our reaction affects our children’s behavior. For some time I have been talking about proactive and reactive responses to behavior. Now I would like to talk with you about ‘ignoring’ and ‘paying attention’.

One way of looking at how we learn is called reinforcement theory and on the surface, it is not a difficult theory to understand. The difficulty with this theory is to understand its complexity and to consistently implement what we know.

Here is how it goes—any behavior that we want to see increase we reinforce and any behavior we want to see diminish, we ignore. This is where the words ‘ignoring’ and ‘paying attention’ become important to our understanding of how the theory works.

I’ll give you one example this week. Johnny is a toddler with the typical toddler toys in his living room. He has a lot of puzzles and he has a lot of books—both great things to have in a home for a toddler to promote learning. The puzzles help Johnny’s brain develop its spatial relationships—a precursor to math. The books help Johnny’s brain develop its auditory skills, a precursor to language and reading. And of course, Johnny was born with his own, built in set of genes and thus a predisposition for the language or the math side of the brain. Will Johnny more often choose the puzzles or the books? If his parents come and play with him whenever he chooses puzzles and never when he chooses books; what will he usually play with?

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