Influencing child behaviour

Both parents and teachers must know the techniques  

Understanding and manipulating the behaviour of children forms an important part of the child rearing and learning process. Parents, if they are not able to manipulate the behaviour of students and to stimulate them to study, may fail to acquire intended learning outcomes.  The same is true for the teachers; they also need to understand the psychology of students to arouse in them the interest for learning otherwise it would be difficult to receive fruitful results. That is to say it is essential for parents and teachers to know how to influence the behaviour of children.

Psychologists suggest employing a three-pronged strategy to gain desired behaviour from children. The components of this strategy are Antecedents Behaviour and Consequences. They call it ABCs of child behaviour: A for antecedents B for behaviour and C for consequences. These three components work together to develop behaviour. Using all these three, a desired behaviour can be obtained from children at home or in the classroom.

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Now let’s try to understand the three components separately. Antecedents refer to what we can do before a behaviour takes place to make the desired behaviours most likely to occur. These are the things, said or done, that increase the likelihood of occurrence of a certain kind of behaviour. For example when a parent says to his child, “Iif you are a good boy you will keep yourself neat and clean.” Here the first sentence is an antecedent and it seemingly increases the chances of the occurrence of intended behaviour. It should be noted that the type of delivery of the statement determines its effectiveness. The antecedents are likely to influence the behaviour, provided they have been delivered with a gentle tone. Not only such statements, but also the display of soft tone of voice and pleasant facial expressions when asking a child to do something, constitute antecedents.  Roughly telling a child sternly “respect your elders” is less likely to be less effective in changing behaviour than saying it lightly with matching expressions. Besides, offering assistance is also a form of antecedent that can help in getting desired behaviour. For example you can say to your child “Let’s do homework”. After sitting a while you can leave. The child will most probably remain engaged in completing it. This may create lasting interest in the child for doing homework– you will not always have to bother sitting with him.

The parents and teachers in our society – mostly stressing on the use of corporal punishment for manipulating child behaviour- need awareness on how to stimulate children to show the desired behaviour and adopt good habits. The government can raise awareness among parents and teachers with the help of civil society electronic print and social media holding teacher training programmes and by conducting awareness seminars. Children need to be given dignified status so that they could be able to become productive citizens of society in future.

The B part of the ‘ABCs’ of child behaviour is itself behaviour. It implies what can be done to replace the unwanted behaviour with the desired one. This can be done by shaping the child’s behaviour. The step-by-step process is involved to teach a child new behaviour. For instance if you want your child to drink milk ask him to take just a sip not more. Carrying on this practice for some days will ultimately produce the result of the child drinking the whole glass of milk. Similarly if you want to see your child doing homework for an hour daily start by making him do it for a few minutes. Then day by day slightly increase the time. Eventually the child will learn to do it for an hour. The new behaviour can be shaped with the help of four ingredients: (1) set the liked behaviour (goal behaviour); (2) specify a small step (3) choose the positive consequences that will be used on completion of small steps, such as praise or reward; (4) go on increasing the step in quantity or amount but slightly, if completed. Besides shaping another way of replacing unliked behaviour with the desired behaviour is modeling that is teaching by example. This is observational learning. Children are very good observers. They try to imitate those close to them. How do you talk, what are your expressions and what do you wear; everything is noted by them. If you use gentle language with others children will also be gentle in their behaviour. If you show an aggressive attitude children will also display aggression in their relation with their peers. This modeling can serve a very useful role in influencing the behaviour of children.

The final ”C’ part of the above mentioned ‘ABCs’ of child behaviour specifies  consequences. The consequences imply what will be our response after the behaviour is completed.  There are two kinds of consequences. First are positive reinforcers such as praise or rewards used after the child engages itself in a behaviour that you want to develop. While the second are negative reinforcers such as punishment, used after the child engages in an unwanted behaviour. (I will write in a separate article about the usefulness or uselessness of punishment, the negative reinforcers in developing a child’s behaviour). Instead of providing the reward of candies or chocolates, the best positive reinforcer is praise. More and more use of praise should be made, as it can help reinforce the wanted behaviour. If a child behaves with his sister nicely, he should be praised for it because this act of praise will play the role of a reinforcer. For any good act if a child is not praised then there is a greater likelihood that the child will not adopt the behaviour permanently. So, praise should be used constantly as the most effective tool for influencing the child’s behaviour. The above mentioned techniques surely are not exhaustive of the prescribable list for changing the behaviour of children as it is a vast subject-matter. Nonetheless these can help to a great extent.

The parents and teachers in our society – mostly stressing on the use of corporal punishment for manipulating child behaviour- need awareness on how to stimulate children to show the desired behaviour and adopt good habits. The government can raise awareness among parents and teachers with the help of civil society electronic print and social media holding teacher training programmes and by conducting awareness seminars. Children need to be given dignified status so that they could be able to become productive citizens of society in future.

M. Ilyas Kalhoro
The writer is an educator and an independent educational researcher from Lahori Muhalla, Larkana

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