Positive Behavior Log:
Attached is a “Positive Behavior Log” that I created to track positive behaviors your child/student has engaged in between visits with their mental health counselor. The point of this assignment is to highlight positive interpersonal experiences initiated by your child. Children who have been referred to a mental health counselor, or consistently receive disciplinary action at school, often hear a lot about what they are not doing well, and what they are doing well typically takes a backseat. This log is intended to highlight the good things your child is doing and to reinforce the behaviors adults in their life are trying to teach them.
Commonly children who are continually given attention for undesirable behaviors will internalize a negative self-concept. Focusing on their positive behavior can alter this negative brain mapping, turning their identity to a more positive self-concept. With an improved self-concept, a child is often able to develop increased flexibility in how they think about their behavior and their identity. More flexibility in their thinking often leads to the child being able to more readily separate behavior from identity.
Reinforcing Positive Behaviors:
One of the things we know about reinforcing behaviors is that random reinforcement is more effective than incremental reinforcement. Rather than setting a weekly target for a certain number of positive interpersonal interactions, it is better to vary the frequency a reward is given. As humans we typically fall into patterns. We like patterns. An easy way to combat this tendency is to roll a die.
In my office I have a big, six-inch yellow die that I use for all sorts of activities. In this particular case I roll the die to determine how many days in a row the client must have one or more positive peer interactions. The first goals are small. For example, an initial goal may be to simply say “hi” to peers. A second goal may be for the client to ask a peer “Did you do anything fun (last night, over the weekend, etc.)?” In some cases, I back up the goal even further to an activity the client completes with their school counselor to build a foundation on which the client has the ability to say “hi” to a peer.
As the child improves their interpersonal skills more complex reward systems are put in place. After basic social skills are mastered, the child will have short-term and long-term goals. This allows the client to continue mapping positive neural pathways while continuing to challenge the child to build stronger neural pathways. Did you catch that? Build the pathway, then strengthen it while continuing to grow the pathways. This takes dedication! Eventually, the shorter-term weekly goals will increase the number of weeks between reinforcement, then months.
Short-term reinforcement is a smaller scale reward. Examples include: 20 minutes of gaming, one 20-30-minute TV show, choose the next movie for family movie night, select the next game at family game night, 20 minutes of free-choice time, 30 minutes of craft time, etc. These activities should be things that may be distractions for your child when completing necessary tasks, like homework. Short-term rewards should be instantly gratifying yet contained. The rewards should also be consistent with your house/office/school rules. The sky is not the limit.
Long-term reinforcements should be things that require more effort to earn. These rewards will change over time as your child’s self-regulation improves. Long-term rewards should begin with weeks and move toward months. These are things that would require more investment from the adult/caregiver overseeing this project. Examples include: dinner out, selecting a favorite homemade meal, receiving a desired toy, going out for a movie, completing a project at the pottery shop, buying a comic book, shopping for crafting items, etc. The reward in this category should stir up motivation within the child to pay more attention to what is going on within themselves and with others. This is a difficult category of reward because it’s like Goldie Locks. It cannot be too hard or too soft. It needs to be just right.
Tips for Reinforcement:
* Highlight the line for which the reward will be given.
* Roll a die to determine the number of days before a short-term reward.
* Roll a die for the number of weeks before a long-term reward.
* Start with short-term rewards until they are met with consistency, then add in short- and long-term rewards. The final step is to provide only long-term rewards.
* Create a reward jar full of popsicle sticks with agreed upon incentives. Let the child decorate the jar.
* As the child improves self-regulation they may not want to redeem a reward right away. This is great! Create a reward currency, such as using a one-inch hole punch and cardboard or use marbles (or other safe item) and let them fill a container with the reward currency and choose when they would like to redeem the reward. This will improve the child’s ability to know their limits and honor their window of tolerance. It also helps you know when to increase the difficulty of the reward.
Disclaimer: This system can be applied to a myriad of behaviors, not just interpersonal skills.