Monday, August 26, 2013

The Reinforcing Power of Adult Attention for Children

...the discovery—of the reinforcing power of adults' social attention for children. We had never seen nor imagined such power! The speed and magnitude of the effects on children's behavior in the real world of simple adjustments of something so ubiquitous as adult attention were astounding. -Tribute to Wolf by Todd Risley

The power of adult attention has been extensively studied since 1960 and this research has resulted in child care methods that you would do well to learn to use.  Montrose Wolf discovered the reinforcing power of adult attention and showed how the parent or caregiver can use it to solve problems.  Here’s a tribute to Wolf summarizing his career. Here's an  interview with Wolf. His most well-known invention (with Arthur Staats) is time-out, but his most important discovery was that the redeployment of care-giver attention causes a 40-fold reduction in many common unwanted behaviors within 2 weeks.

The basic technique is to give attention to the behaviors you want and withdraw attention from the behaviors you don’t want.   This puts things under your control, you need to learn how to direct your attention to solve behavior problems and avoid inadvertently creating behavior problems.  If you want to become skilled at this, here are some resources for learning the ropes:

"ABCs of Child Rearing" Online Course (free to audit)