It seems that almost
every parent swears by consistency. But
sometimes inconsistency is best.
Well executed evidence-based
parenting methods typically start showing results in a matter of days. So, if you have doing the same thing
consistently for months on end with no results, then you need to change. I knew
a mom who started consistently reinforcing whining as soon as her kid started
talking, instantly reacting to whining by giving the kid face-time and saying “Use
your words”. Three years later, we kept
the kid for a few days and there was never any attempt to whine around us. But within minutes of the mom’s return the
kid whined at her. The mom immediately turned to the kid and said “no whining”
and the kid made a little pouty face and the mom immediately went over and
hugged the kid. It would be hard to
come up with a better operant conditioning procedure than this one for causing
whining. Since the kid never tried
whining around us, it’s likely that there were other adults in her life that
ignored whining and she had just quickly sized us up and categorized us with
those adults that don’t reward whining. Lots of immediate positive
attention at first is great for establishing a habit, but constant, consistent
praise of a specific behavior over the long haul creates a brittle habit that
tends to go away when the praise stops.
In her book Don’t Shoot the Dog!, one of the methods that Karen Pryor recommended
to get rid of a habit was to first subject it to constant positive
reinforcement for a while and then abruptly stop reinforcing it.
Alan Kazdin, director
of the Yale Child Conduct Center, recommends, after a habit is established, fading praise to occasional. Variable reinforcement has long been known to
make a habit more robust, more resistant to extinction. Skinner proved this in experiments with
pigeons. The best policy is to inconsistently direct positive attention at a low rate toward an established good habit.
can be bad. Variable reinforcement of
bad behavior will make it harder to get rid of that behavior. This variable reinforcement effect is
considered to be one of the factors in gambling addiction.