019 – Chapter 3, Part 5

Eliminate Established Misbehaviors

First, The Bad News

Many parents say their children keep doing things they really dislike despite many efforts to stop them. The Principle of Positive Reinforcement, recognizing that any behavior which is reinforced enough times becomes internalized, offers a clear explanation. Almost certainly these children have been reinforced unintentionally many times for the disliked behaviors.

Parents who dislike whining often give in to their child to get the whining to stop, and in the process they teach the child that whining works, no matter how often they have heard it condemned. Actions really do speak louder than words, and when the child meets important needs while whining, the response carries the day no matter what the parents say about the matter.

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While we try to teach our children all about life, Our children teach us what life is all about.

                                                                         ~Angela Schwindt

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What makes this dysfunctional interchange all the more insidious is that it works both ways. When parents finally get fed up and give in to the whining, the resulting peace and quiet provide instant, strong reinforcement for the parents’ response of giving in. As a result, the likelihood the parents will give in the next time also increases. This powerful reality and the subtle nature of how it works explain how it is that parents tend to repeat their part in a pattern they so dislike.

The observation that children may internalize inappropriate behavior due to enough inadvertent reinforcement highlights a significant problem. Once a behavior is truly internalized, it is very difficult to dislodge. Psychologists, if they are fully candid, might acknowledge that we really don’t know any direct and consistently effective way to eliminate inappropriate behaviors that are fully established.

That is the bad news.

(Stay tuned; Part 6 presents the good news!)


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