I remember hearing another telling a story one time about when her son, Ricky, was at the clinic to get his shot in preparation for going to school so he was about 4 years old. His mother had prepped him, and told him why they were there and promised Ricky a trip to McDonald’s afterward. So when Ricky walked into the clinic he was actually in a pretty good mood. There happened to meet another little boy about his age. “Are you here to get your shot, too?” he asked the little boy.
That boy’s mother had NOT told her son why he was there and the result was a temper tantrum. My question to you: what should this mother do? Should she give in to his crying and demanding to go home? Should she try to entice him with McDonald’s? The boy was clearly not negotiating. He was crying, kicking and throwing himself on the floor.
Are there any other parents or teachers who have encountered this sort of behavior? Are there any other parents who have a child who is not keen to get up out of bed in the morning to go to school? Am I the only one?
One reader suggests ignoring as a legitimate intervention in such circumstances. When the function of the behavior is to escape demands, escape responsibility or even escape consequences, ignoring is completely inappropriate. I’m not necessarily talking about overt behaviors like tantrums as much as refusing to move. If your child doesn’t get out of bed in time to go to school, and refuses to comply and he is allowed to sleep in, you are reinforcing noncompliant behavior. Who wouldn’t rather sleep in?
Thomas is such a textbook case of this. Monday through Friday, it is a chore to get him up at 6:15 to catch a 6:45 bus. He acts like he just can’t stay awake and sometimes complains that he feels sick. But, being the mean parents we are, we FORCE the boy out of bed and MAKE him go to school! This is non negotiable. Ignoring is not an option.
Guess what happens on Saturday morning? Does he sleep in? Does he take advantage of the opportunity to rest and sleep? No, he is up at 5:30!! Heck, we might even let him stay up and hour or two later on Friday just to see if he might sleep in. Not a chance. But we are not quite as rigid on this point, although I’ve been sorely tempted to keep in his room until 7:30 just because he can’t be left alone. But we just deal with it. Jane does mostly.
If a person refuses to do something, they may be trying to access attention. Then ignoring is a legitimate extinction technique, because it is matched to the function.
In the case of Jim, attention was not the function of his noncompliant behavior. How do I know? Because he could be left in the room completely alone and he would be perfectly content to sit in the chair with his head down between his knees all day long. Attention from people is not real high on his agenda. He’d rather people left him alone and there are more times than not when I can totally relate!
So we have a situation where a student is not only escaping demands but also getting access to some sort of automatic reinforcement. The first thing is to get the attention of the person. In Jim’s case it involved shutting down the whole vestibular feedback he had going on by leaning over his chair. The intent was that by gently tipping his chair forward he would just stand up. making guidance a lot easier. Instead, he rolled on the floor.
Upon some reflection, I now realize that what I wanted to do was put the escape behavior on extinction. The only way to do that is to block escape. Ignoring works when attention is the maintaining factor. Since I couldn’t get Jim to go to his class and he was too big to carry there, that is when I did some other work with him. In this case, trying new foods was a much higher demand activity than what the other class was doing which was basically watching a movie. And there was the key.
As a youngin’ I didn’t always want to go to school either. But I rarely ever missed a day because I lived on the farm. Farming involved MUCH higher demands than schoolwork ever could. Dad wouldn’t hesitate to dump me out of bed and kick my posterior out to the barn if I had a notion to skip school. So yes, I am pretty old school.
Many kids today have absolutely no concept of authority. Mine do. If one of my own kids refuses to follow a teacher’s instruction and dumping him out of the desk does any good, I say it’s okay. Parents nowadays are unwilling to project authority, and then wonder why their kids are brats.
I expect my sons’ teachers to follow through on what they say. If they threaten consequences, then there had better be some consequences. Failure to do so merely trains the student to ignore adults. This is how students begin training adults, as they begin putting parenting behaviors on extinction! Ignore a parent long enough and they will throw up their hands and say “What’s the use?”
So how do you put escape behavior on extinction? By not allowing the escape. And anyone who has spent more than a few weeks with a student can tell most of the time whether a student is trying to escape or gain access to something. You know who in your class loves attention. You also know the ones who will do anything to get out of doing work. It is possible to have both things in play at thesame time.
I’m not saying I haven’t made mistakes. Maybe I should spend a week chronicling my biggest snafus. I don’t care how much of a behaviorist one is, kids don’t come with an instruction manual and each one will present something new and interesting. That’s one of the reasons I stay.