By: April Groeneweg
Saying hi, glancing and catching someone’s eye, or giving someone a hug, these are all forms of attention. Attention is a common form of communication, and also can be a highly valuable form of reinforcement. Children often seek out attention in different ways; sometimes in inappropriate ways such as hitting or screaming.
Knowing that attention is valuable and understand the different types of attention can help to decrease some of that inappropriate behavior. In 2007, Kodak et al evaluated the types of attention that maintain problem behavior. In this study, Kodak et al looked at the following as types of attention: reprimands, unrelated comments, tickles, eye contact , praise, and physical attention. When a child hits another person, occasionally the first instinct may be to reprimand, “Don’t hit.” If the purpose of hitting was to get a attention, a reprimand may actually reinforce the inappropriate behavior. These types of seemingly negative consequences, may in fact have the opposite effect by reinforcing unwanted behaviors.
If attention is the primary maintaining variable for a child’s behavior, minimizing attention for unwanted behavior is only half the solution. Providing attention for wanted behaviors is also a key component to shaping up the behaviors we want to continue. For example, when a child gains attention by using your name, or tapping your shoulder, providing attention will help establish these types of responses. In addition, when a child plays appropriately independently, while you get dinner ready, providing praise and attention will reinforce and strengthen this type of behavior.
These are just a few examples of how attention can work to increase all types of behavior. Controlling when certain types of attention are delivered will help shape behavior. Figuring out the preferred type of attention to provide for appropriate responses and withholding attention for undesired behaviors is crucial in helping to reduce problem behavior and increase more desirable behaviors.
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