BEing Behaviour – know your A, B, C’s
Earlier this year I was so extremely fortunate to spend five wonderful days at Riverwood Downs, Barrington Tops (1), New South Wales, Australia, for the Learning about Learning conference with Dr Susan Friedman (2). A well as the perfect venue for a behaviour nerd conference, sharing a camper van with Bex Tasker, uber nerd and founder of Positively Together (3), kept the discussion sparking until late into the night.
Each morning Susan took 200 of us on a journey of discovery and science around the subject of behaviour. We learnt techniques of analysis and deconstruction, shaping plans and reinforcement. The rules are the same whether dog, cat, horse, rat, earthworm, or human animal. All earthlings learn the same, and the output of all learning is behaviour. And, behaviour (if we stop and focus) simply provides information about the reinforcement history. Behaviour always has a purpose, and repeated behaviour must have been reinforced in the past for it to be continued.
Once we realise that we are not victim to our past behaviours, that we can take control and responsibility for our own behaviour, and help shape the behaviour of those around us (pets, partners, or children), the world starts to look different somehow.
If we look at behaviour from a behavioural analyst’s viewpoint, we quickly learn the rules. All behaviour can be considered by following our A,B, C’s.
A is for the Antecedent – the environment that preceded the behaviour and made the behaviour more likely to occur. An example would be; two preschool children playing with toys they had chosen from a toy basket. One child grabs a toy from the other child.
B is for the behaviour itself. It is what is observable; just the facts. In this example the behaviour would be; the child is crying.
C is for the consequence of the behaviour, the reinforcer, which determines the likelihood of the behaviour repeating again in the future. For example; The adult picks up the crying child and holds them, using a soothing voice.
So, in this scenario the young child has a toy taken off them, causing them, to cry, whereby the adult picks up the crying child, holds them close and tries to sooth them. A perfectly reasonable scenario, right? Yes, as long as the behaviour, the crying when play doesn’t go well, is what we want the child to repeat in the future, every time something unwanted happens to them (assuming that the reinforcer, the cuddle, was something that made them feel better).
Have we taught the child that crying is a good way to feel better? Maybe yes.
Is this what we want, and is this the best learning for the child? Maybe not.
When we understand that we have some control over A, by setting the environment up for success, and we have control over C, the consequence or the reinforcement of the behaviour by offering an outcome that supports learning, then we start to see the behaviour change over time; in this case less crying. And, when we identify what we DO want e.g. calm, quiet, settled and happy child, and we reinforce consistently for this behaviour, then there will be less need for the behaviour of meltdown to occur.
We tend to be so focussed on what we don’t want in another’s behaviour, we forget what we do want, and we forget to give positive reinforcement or praise when someone does something good.
Think about when your dog is barking. Inevitably we will shush the dog for barking, tell it off, yell at it (or worse), and then when it is quiet, we ignore the very behaviour (quiet) that we want. Turn this upside down- praise the dog for quiet, reinforce or reward quiet- and what happens? It no longer feels the same need to bark.
The same goes for unwanted behaviour at home, with your children, with your partner, or at work with your colleagues. Try it yourself on an unsuspecting family member or work colleague. Think of a behaviour that you DO want, slice it into the smallest possible piece heading in the direction you want. Ignore all of the behaviour that you don’t want – this means STOP NAGGING! and praise the heck out of what you do want. Only focus on the good stuff.
You will start to see how much good stuff you have been filtering out and ignoring. It is interesting how we are so quick to criticise, and so very slow to recognise good behaviour. Its as if we think praise will lessen the effort being applied.
The fact is that we all value being recognised and reinforced for trying, for putting in effort, and the more we are seen and acknowledged for doing good, the more likely we are to keep trying to do good.
Next time someone does a little something that improves things for you, or for them, or for the family environment; no matter how small; notice and say…
‘I so appreciate you’
‘What a great job’.
Name the thing they have done, be specific, make them feel valued.
A little praise goes a long, long way.