How to Use Differential Reinforcement
Differential Reinforcement is used quite successfully to increase the frequency and adoption of a certain behavior by using positive reinforcement. In other words, negative behavior is to be ignored, and the desired behavior recognized and rewarded. This researched approach has come to find wide acceptance today in the field of applied behavior analysis. Here are some tips when implementing differential reinforcement.
Positively Reinforce Desired Behavior:
When your child or whoever you are trying to teach exhibits signs of the behavior you wish them to take in response to a certain stimulus, then reinforce them. Be sure to individualize the reinforcement and use the “matching law” to ensure the value of the reinforcer matches the effort the individual puts out in performing the desired response.
Extinction for Everything Else:
When the non-desired behavior occurs do not use punishment but instead put the unwanted behavior on extinction. Extinction involves withholding reinforcement when non-ideal/non-desirable behavior is exhibited. For instance, when you are trying to get a child to say, “car” to gain access to their toy car, do not give them access to the toy car if they scream and yell. However, if they say, “car” reinforce their behavior by providing them the toy car to play with.
Establish a Reinforcement Schedule:
Ensure that every time your child performs the desired behavior, they are rewarded. This will reinforce that behavior. Be sure to set up a plan to fade the reinforcement schedule so reinforcement occurs on a more natural schedule. For example, if teaching a child to brush their teeth, you may start with providing reinforcement each night after they successfully brush their teeth but over time we want to thin the schedule by only providing reinforcement after 3 consecutive days of brushing their teeth.
Do not give in to the temptation to make allowances ‘just this once’. This could send them mixed signals as to what behavior actually leads to reinforcement. You will need to be steadfast with your differential reinforcement and reward if and only if the desired behavior is performed.