Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rehearsing Polite Manners with TAGteach

One of the things we learned early on with TAGteach is that the principles we have been developing are brilliant for allowing the rehearsal of specific small pieces of behavior. In our work with children and with adults in occupational and management training we have used a lot of role playing with tag points for specific areas of focus. The role playing allows us to set up situations that are non-threatening and allow the learner a chance to practice and succeed while gaining the skills required to accomplish a specific task in a real situation.

In his excellent book "The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child with no pills, no therapy, no contest of wills", Dr. Alan Kazdin explains that children need to practice desirable behaviors in a no-stress simulated situation so that they have the skills available to offer these behaviors in a real situation. Building a strong alternative behavior is the best way to eliminate unwanted behavior. For example, if a child has trouble sharing, he is more likely to be able to share in a real situation if he has practiced sharing in a simulated role-playing situation. If a child has never had the opportunity to practice the behaviors associated with sharing, and any time he has been exposed to a sharing scenario it has ended in stress and frustration, he will never develop the skills required and will become even less likely to share. Giving a child (or an adult) the opportunity to succeed by applying a new skill in a low stress simulation, increases the likelihood that he will employ these skills in a real-life situation.

We have posted a video that illustrates how we insert a tag point into a simulated situation to help Lear (who is four) practice polite manners. We want him to ask permission before opening the fridge. The tag point is "ask to open the fridge". We have provided motivation for him to open the fridge by providing a bowl of melon pieces. This keeps the game going as long as he wants some melon. The tag comes when he asks, and the primary reinforcer is a plastic sea creature.

You may wonder why we don't just let opening the fridge and getting the melon be the primary reinforcer after the tag. The main reason for this is that we want to be in control of the primary reinforcer. He wants a sea creature more than he wants a piece of melon (or perhaps he is smart enough to know that he can get both!). He is free to open the fridge and take a piece of melon when ever he feels like it. If he did that without asking there would be no tag and no sea creature. We do not want to have to hold the fridge closed or otherwise use force if he does not ask permission. This would ruin our tag session and would result in a tantrum and no learning is possible in this state of mind. In fact he never did just take a piece of melon, he asked every time. In this session Lear asked permission to open the fridge many times. This increases the chance of him asking in the future under similar circumstances. The more practice a child has with polite behaviors, and the  more these are reinforced with a positive outcome the more likely he is to use these habitually.

This video was submitted by Anne Wormald as part of her Level 1 Certification project.

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