How Can Parents Use Operant Conditiong Principles With a Toddler? Operant Conditioning and Parenting Children
Parenting can be one of the most rewarding experiences life can offer. Yet it can also be one of the most painful and punishing. Bringing up a child involves so much investment of time, energy, love and nurturing, and parents often wonder if they are doing the right thing, especially during times of rebellion and rejection.
Parents strive to teach their children life skills, inculcate important moral values, shape characters... and on a day to day basis children are learning behaviors, attitudes, and thoughts towards certain behaviors from the important adults in their lives. Whether consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously, parents demonstrate love with the hope that their children will grow up to be successful adults surrounded by loving family and friends.
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There are tons of parenting strategies out there, some of them rather radical and other unconventional. Sadly, parenting can take on dark and ugly tones, but here I'd like to take a step back and adopt a light-hearted approach to tackle this serious subject of parenting.
This hub is my tribute to all you parents, where I marry classic psychology with the parenting experience. I hope this will provide a refreshing perspective to parents, children, and anyone who might read this.
One of the classic psychology concepts that form the staple diet of any psychology student is this concept of Operant Conditioning. In psychology, learning something new is marked by a modification of behavior and new neural connections in the brain. This is not confined to just academic learning of facts, but here learning refers to the broad spectrum of things. For example, appropriate social behavior, instilling good morals, learning to make wise choices... all these involve learning, and can incorporate the principles of operant conditioning.
Operant conditioning uses the system of punishment and rewards to encourage or discourage a particular behavior in an individual. As parents, we often give out overt and subtle signals of approval and disapproval to our children - through our verbal responses or non verval body language, whether we realize it or not.
In operant conditioning, when we encourage a certain behavior, we want to reinforce it. On the flipside, if we want to discourage it, we then want to punish it.
There are 4 methods that Operant Conditioning uses -
1. Positive Reinforcement.
This refers to 'adding' something to reward a behavior.
- eg. giving compliments about the child's strengths to encourage more confident behavior.
- eg. granting more TV time or video game time if the child takes the initiative to do homework without any reminders
- eg. smiling when a child masters a hard word, puts in effort to achieve something
- eg. hugging a child when the child tells the truth, or owns up instead of lying
2. Negative Reinforcement
This is 'subtracting' something to reward or encourage a behavior
- eg. taking away criticism to encourage a child to try new activities
- eg. removing distractions to encourage the child to concentrate on their homework
- eg. withdrawing certain monetary incentives to encourage the child to adopt a more frugal lifestyle
- eg. denying and refraining from serving dessert until the child finishes all the vegetables on his or her plate
3. Positive Punishment
This is 'adding' something to discourage a behavior
- eg. giving a disapproving look when a child imitates bad speech
- eg. installing a security program on the computer to limit the child's internet access
- eg. putting the cookie jar on the top shelf after discovering the kid has been sneaking to it
- eg. giving criticism/scolding/reprimand when a child repeatedly disobeys you
4. Negative Punishment
This is removing something to discourage a behavior
- eg. ignoring the child or withdrawing attention when a child behaves inappropriately (eg. if child is whining to get attention)
- eg. removing privileges if a child is caught behaving badly towards others
- eg. shortening the time for a bedtime story because the child took too long to clear the toys
- eg. disallowing the paydates for a few days because the child lied about finishing homework before playing
Operant conditioning works best when
- Rewards or punishments are large (eg. it will have no impact to punish a child with reading shorter bed-time storybook if the child is inherently not interested in reading)
- Reinforcements and punishments are administered soon after the behavior is identified. This increases the impact factor and is more effective than waiting some time before punishing or rewarding a particular behavior.
So parenting does put a lot of these principles of operant conditioning into action. In fact, I'd say that parents are probably one of the best masters of operant conditioning (although they might not be aware of this themselves). If you are a psychology student, I hope this helps to give you a real-life application of what you are learning, alongside a renewed admiration and appreciation for parents.
What are your thoughts and experiences? Please leave your comments below, I would love to hear from you!
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