Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Today, how about a little serving of good old-fashioned behaviourism. In all honesty, aren't the principles of learning theory (rewards, punishments, reinforcement) the bread & butter of parenting?

Of all Skinner's principles, the one that I don't think is entirely obvious, and is a particularly pertinent one for parenting, is intermittent reinforcement. The finding is that if that if a behaviour is not rewarded every time, but just occasionally, the behaviour is more likely to persist than if it is rewarded every time. This is a real trap, because it means that even if you manage to ignore your child's whining 90% of the time, but pay attention to it 10% of the time, you have set up a perfect intermittent reinforcement schedule such that the whining will continue. And attention, even negative attention, is a powerful reinforcer. Ouch.

On the more positive side, it means that you don't have to reward a child every time they do a desired behaviour, say staying quietly in their room until 6 o'clock (gee, I wonder why that example popped into my head). You can occasionally give the child a treat, or praise, or whatever, and the behaviour should persist.

5:10 this morning people, 5:10.

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