080 – Chapter 8 – Part 6

Review Progress and Adjust Your Program (continued) 

Fade out reinforcement

When your child’s successes appear consistent, prepare for a gradual reduction of reinforcement, a process that will both assess your child’s readiness for independence and allow you to reverse course easily should you discover your child still needs reinforcement from you. Your role while fading an item out of your program includes: 

  • Preparing your child for a change in the frequency or in the amount of reinforcement provided for successful completion of the behavior.
  • Implementing a gradual withdrawal or fading of reinforcement for the behavior.
  • Making sure that your child recognizes and appreciates the accomplishment involved in achieving mastery of the behavior.

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The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.

                                                                    ~Benjamin Spock, M.D.

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Plan to implement your changes during a daily review when you all are relaxed, when you have time to go over the whole situation carefully, and when you can watch your child’s reactions. After completing your usual review, identify the item that you think your child may have mastered and comment on it specifically. Point out the successes over the past several weeks on your charts. Then begin the fading process with a comment like:

Look, Kai! Your charts show that you have done great at getting the trash out on time for the past six weeks. It looks as if you may not need our help so much anymore!

Since an alert child, hearing this the first time, may immediately object to what can be perceived as a threat of a loss of benefits, be prepared to calm such worries by going on:

We are really proud of your progress. Because you seem to have mastered this job, we are going to change the program a bit. Starting next Monday, instead of ten credits each time you finish the job correctly, you will earn five.

This comment may further the sense of threat and you may hear, “Hey, that’s not fair,” so continue your explanation with:

But we are also going to make another change because we know that you are eager to earn enough credits for a new bike seat. We have noticed that it is still hard for you to get your math assignment done on time each day, and we want to help you get more used to doing that. We will add the five credits you don’t seem to need any more to get the trash out to the ten credits you can already earn to get your math done on time, making it 15 credits in all. That way you can still earn the same number of credits, and we hope this will help with your math, too

Typically this helps children calm enough to show some interest and at least to listen. Once it is clear the changes will not interfere with chances to earn a prized reward, the child is likely to be more accepting. That, then, allows you to complete this central and hugely important message:

Kai, we are really proud of how well you have mastered the job of getting the trash out on your own. Your dad and I have noticed that you also seem proud of yourself for getting this done so quickly each day, and both of us are really happy about that, too!

Mastery is all-important in a child’s life, particularly among children who seem not to show a lot of it. When you tried to help your two-year-old, you likely were rebuked a few times with a haughty “I can do it myself!” That is the refrain of a child eagerly pursuing a sense of mastery, something most of us continue to do in a variety of realms for our entire lives.

A boy playing a video game shows times when he is frustrated, even fuming at the video screen while still working intensely to progress. Too much of that and he tosses the controller aside and quits for a time. But later he goes back again and again until finally “winning” the game. He may brag and strut briefly and then start all over again, perhaps displaying many of the same reactions, though this time he may be less frustrated as things go better. He may go on to complete the game a number of times, getting better each time before finally putting it in storage once he feels competent and ready to try new challenges.

If there are no items in your child’s chart to which you want to add credits, consider adding a new item instead. Then tell the child that you’re going to transfer the credits reduced from the successful behavior to the new one.

By his point you have told the child how your program will be different beginning the next day. And you have calmed any concerns about losing benefits. Next you must follow the new plan faithfully and respond to the child’s successes just as you did before, although it is a good idea to increase the amount of your social reinforcement for the first few times:

Terrific, Kai, you are doing great at getting the trash out! It is so good to see you doing things so much on your own.

If your child continues to do well after the reduction in credits, you have evidence that you were right in estimating that you could reduce rewards. After a few more weeks at the new level, you can again use the fading process during a daily review. As before, fade the credits by reducing the number by a reasonable amount, typically half. Explain what you intend to do, and express your pride in the successes that allow for the changes.

With younger children using tokens, for items receiving only one token in the first place, it isn’t so obvious how to reduce them, though if you are using tokens that literally can be cut in half you could do that; your child might even enjoy using two halves to make a whole. You may be able to think of other ways to handle this, but some parents have been successful by providing the child with one token for two successes as the first step in fading out the tokens. With these children, give extra praise during the fading process to make up for any sense of loss from fewer tokens. Otherwise, the process is pretty much the same as for older children.


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