Managing expectations across environments.



He ALWAYS does that with me, but NEVER does it with his dad--what gives?


There’s almost always a pretty good reason our kids (and we) behave the way we do. In behaviour-speak, we understand behaviour as being shaped by the environment, or the context in which it occurs. That means, we either keep doing, or stop doing, a certain thing (say, hitting, kicking, licking, or even scratching) based on whether “it works” or it “doesn’t work”. The degree to which a behaviour “works”' relates to its ultimate purpose, or function; scratching an itch often “works” for relieving the itch, but often doesn’t “work” for avoiding a pothole (10/10 don’t recommend scratching an itch as a way to save your tires). Raising my hand often “works” for getting my teacher’s attention, but often doesn’t “work” for avoiding being called on (or scratching an itch for that matter).


Oftentimes, a behaviour will “work better” or “work less” in certain situations, or contexts; raising my hand works at school, but doesn’t work at the kitchen table--our kids figure this out pretty quickly because of our ability to learn/adapt.


When I brush my teeth on my own when my mom’s around she always tells me AWESOME SAUCE! When I brush my teeth on my own when my big sister is around she only sometimes tells me AWESOME SAUCE (she’s always on her phone). When I brush my teeth on my own and no one is around to see it, NO ONE tells me AWESOME SAUCE. Who do you think I’m more likely to brush my teeth independently for?


Think back to your classes in high school; if attendance counted for 10% and every other assignment accounted for 90% of your grade, how likely are you to attend class? Not very likely. How likely are you to do your assignment? Pretty darn likely.


So to come full circle here--we’re thinking about why our kids save certain behaviours for you, your partner, your caregiver or even their teachers at school; the truth is, behaviour goes where reinforcement flows. The degree to which a behaviour is reinforced (as in, the degree to which it “works” for achieving its purpose) is directly proportional to its likelihood of happening. So, if little Alley ALWAYS whines when she talks to mom, but never whines when she talks to dad as yourself--what are the differences in how we’re responding and are there concurrent schedules of reinforcement at play here? In other words--if I always respond to whining and dad never responds to whining, who is Alley more likely to save her whining for?



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