Changing What Children Do: Behavior Modification

You ask Lisa to stay ten minutes after school to make up for the ten minutes she was late in the morning. You are changing the consequences of Lisa’s behavior. Or, maybe you ask Lisa to set her alarm clock ten minutes earlier in the morning, so she has more time to get ready. Now you are changing the antecedents, what happens before she comes to school? In both cases you are trying to change what Lisa does, so she won’t be late for class.

Behavior Modification is the most frequently used technique for changing children’s behavior. Parents and teachers use it every day, whether they realize it or not. Mom tells Brandon he can have his ice-cream after he eats his vegetables, Cathy gets to stay up 15 minutes later because she finished her homework, and dad asks Alicia to pick up the Lego she dumped all over the floor. These are consequences meant to reinforce (in Brandon and Cathy’s case) and stop (Alicia) what children do. For most children this is all you really have to know about behavior modification. Some kids, however, are tougher to change than others. For these you need to know what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.