Age and the different responses

When you teach a group where half the participants work with younger kids (under 11 ish) and the other half work with older kids (teens) there is a clear dichotomy in responses around problem behaviour. It all comes back to the issue around the distractor versus the reinforcer.

When asked the question - who would give the child a chocolate biscuit when the child is kicking a door the adults who work with younger children say no as they do not see this as a positive move as it returns to the issues around perception of reinforcement theory [[ discussed here ]]. However the adults who work with the teenagers automatically will give the item as they understand it is safer and they also understand it may not work as either a distractor or therefore a reinforcer.

This leads us to issues with the reinforcement history of a teen originally created, by well wishing carers, in a younger child. I see this a lot - people come to me when the person they care for is in their teens and can no longer be managed as they once had been.

Let us say a child is behaving in a manner that the caregivers find difficult and the carers want to reduce this behaviour, common wisdom says the child needs to be taught not to behave in this manner. For reasons that are fully understandable but that I am unable to get into here, humans want to control others and believe they are doing the right thing by telling a child what that child should do. Understandable and not necessarily incorrect. It is the manner of this teaching that varies considerably.

There are teaching moments that are relevant for the child learning and there are teaching moments that make the adult feel that they are achieving something.

In the end this is not about the giving of the item in the high stress situation, I have written a lot on this [[ elsewhere ]]. It is actually about the fact that when you work with more dangerous or bigger people the idea of refusing to give in, such as sticking to extinction, becomes problematic a post about extinction in toddlers. However in short in behavioral terms you can put some behaviour on extinction that had previously been reinforced. When in the high stress situation withholding an item may or may not be extinction depending on if the item had previously acted as a reinforcer or not. Most of the time this is not a fact but an assumption by the carer, experiencing stress, that dictates the carers response.

So when working with dangerous people we may need to "give in" rather than stand our ground, which would possibly making the situation worse, and afterwards revisit the plan. A plan which should be in place if it was a predictable behaviour.

If however the behaviour has not happened before then, not having a plan, you should do whatever you can to manage using the most reasonable force you can. If the behaviour has not happened before then the item cannot be a reinforcer, it could possibly be a distractor, or not, but cannot be a reinforcer. Well I feel this needs a bit of a side bar. Things can become a reinforcer in one event, however this is less common and at this particular point during an incident you are unable to make the judgement the item will reinforce that behaviour as there is no history or data to suggest this.

I essense I have got off the track I started so I will return to that in the next post - perhaps.


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