Behavior Modification: A Project in the Family


Identify the Target Behavior

My two children have been told the importance of helping with some chores around the house. Each child has been assigned three specific chores according to his or her ability. Since the children are six (6) years apart, they do not have the same housekeeping responsibilities. My daughter, who is eleven, has to clean her room. This chore does not include making her bed. I usually do this. What she has to do is to hang her clothes up and clear off her dresser and desk. Also, she has to wash the dishes at night. This chore only includes washing the plates, glasses, knives and forks. She does not have to clean the stove, the sink or the pots. I finish the job. In addition, she has to return her flute and her games to their proper place. My son, who is only five (5) years old, has to put his dirty clothes in the hamper. He has to clear off the table after dinner and return his toys to his room. Also, he has to make sure that his shoes are put away in his room.

Baseline Data

Since the children are asked to do these chores every day on weekdays, I have observed the pattern for five days. I kept a chart of the number of times each chore was being done without too much work on my part (see fig. 1). The purpose of this chart was to get a better idea of which behavior needed to be modified. I was also looking for any clues that might give some information on the pattern of the behavior. The chart shows that the first two tasks are being carried out by both children every day without being told more than once. However, the last task (returning games, flute, toys and shoes) is not being done. In five days, my daughter returned her flute to her room only once. This was done without being told. My son returned his toys to their proper place only once. This was done after being told several times. Therefore, I have decided that this last chore will receive my concentration. I will attempt to motivate the children to put away their things without being told. However, I will not separate this chore from the other two. I will encourage the children to do all three chores every day.

Stimulus Conditions Present

One major stimulus condition which makes the behavior to be modified more pronounced is the presence of Grandma Martin. She comes to help on Mondays and Tuesdays. On these two days, I have to be in school almost all day. She usually has dinner with us and spends the night. The children have learned that Grandma goes around picking up after them. She does this especially when she hears us telling the children to put thing away. The children know that their grandma will do the chore for them, and therefore, they totally ignore our reminders. Furthermore, they know that they will not get punished. Also, they don't have much incentive to do this particular chore because we don't have a reward system. Another factor which contributes to the behavior is that we don't have a specific routine for this particular task. For the other two (washing dishes, clearing the table and cleaning the rooms), we have a specific time. During this time the whole family is involved in housecleaning. The children do their chores without being told because they see Mom and Dad doing their tasks.

Setting Goals

My goal is to design and implement a program which will modify the target behavior. As I said before, I will try to modify the behavior so that both children will do all three chores. Since both children are very capable of returning items to their proper places, I consider this a very realistic goal. Hopefully, during the course of the program, both will develop intrinsic rewards. For one, they may begin to realize that they don't have to run around in the morning looking for shoes and a flute. Also, they may feel good about receiving praise from me rather than hearing me complain about wasted time. This should be particularly true for my daughter. My son may not see the benefits, but he will like the verbal praises and the tangible rewards.

Remove / Encourage Stimulus Conditions

After talking with my husband, I decided to ask for Grandma's cooperation. Since the target behavior occurs strongly when Grandma is by the house, I feel that it is important to have her cooperation. She agreed to it. I also feel that we need to set a time by which all things are to be returned to the bedrooms. I realize that this still leaves me with shoes by the front door, a flute on the living room floor, or games all over the family room until seven o'clock. I am willing to put up with this. Eventually, the children will learn to do this chore as soon as they are finished with something. This is the long-term goal.

Identify the Punishers and Reinforcers

At this point the desired behavior is very seldom displayed. I will try to reward the children every time they come close to the goal behavior. I have chosen to use many reinforcers but also a punisher. Since it is important that the reinforcers are meaningful to each child, I asked the children to help me make out a list of rewards. We have prepared a list for my daughter and one for my son. There are items of different value. There are rewards worth three (3) points, four (4) points and five (5) points. The children decided the worth of each item. They have also chosen a bonus item. This is the one item that they can receive for doing the chores on Saturdays and Sundays. Normally we don't enforce doing any chores on these two days. This is because of our family schedule.

As I said before, the children designed their lists. They have chosen item such as gum, M&M's, ribbons, a sleep-over or an individual meal at Taco Bell. This last item is very important to them. We, as a family, do not go to Taco Bell. My daughter thinks that it is "cool" to go there. On the list we also included a punisher. If the children go for two (2) days without picking up, they would have to pay the person who is hired to do their chores. We decided on a fine of ten cents. This punisher is especially good since presently both children are saving their allowance for two specific toys. After compiling this list, we all signed it as an agreement. Michael felt quite big about signing the paper. He knows how to write his name very well now.

Because Michael is only five years old, it is necessary for him to receive some kind of reward each day. I have decided to give him some extra privileges. Of course, he will always receive verbal praises. I may let him pick the game to be played by the whole family for that particular evening. Another night, he may choose a snack. Of course, if my daughter is doing well too, I will reward her in a similar way. She may get to choose dinner for the following day. This is to motivate them further to reach their goal for the week.

As another reinforcer, we will be using a chart for the stars earned. Each child has designed his or her chart. They have decorated and colored the charts on their own. We have them on the refrigerator. These charts show all three chores for each child. In order to receive the star for the day, Michael and Nicole will have to have all three tasks done. This will force them to pay attention to the one task that they usually do not do. They will have to continue doing the chores that they already are doing well.

Design a Program

In designing my program, I have made sure that Michael and Nicole are involved in developing some of the phases. The first important step, for the children, is the designing of the reward list. By letting them choose their rewards, I will ensure the effectiveness of the reinforcers. The punisher, although chosen by me, is one that they feel is fair. I personally feel that it is the most effective. Both children don't like losing money since they have a goal in mind. Withholding playtime would not be as effective.

In making their charts, the children are taking a step toward intrinsic rewards. Both have charts with a lot of designs. They have taken pride in making them. Nicole has very feminine designs on her chart, and Michael has boats and transformers on his. The charts are designed for three weeks. On the left, they list the three tasks to be done. On the top row, there are the days of the week, including Saturday and Sunday. These two last days are for the bonus item. For each day, there are three boxes (see fig. 2). As the children complete their tasks, they can mark the appropriate box. At the bottom of each column, there is the total box. Here the children will put a star when all three tasks are done. They can only receive the one point star if all tasks are done. I do realize that there is a chance that they may put things away but not do another chore. This time they will not be rewarded for the one chore that I want to stress. It is a risk I am willing to take because I don't want to undermine the other two tasks. At the end of each week, the children are allowed to select their reward. It will be based on the amount of points. In order to select an item, Michael and Nicole will need a minimum of 3 stars at the end of the week. Of course, if they choose to work only three days, they will have to pay for the two days. They will pay the person hired to do their chores. This does not mean that they actually hire someone. It will be one of the family. If I end up doing their chores because they forgot or chose not to do them, they will have to pay me. The choice is theirs. In their lists, they have item ranging from three stars to five stars. I have decided not to increase the minimum amount of stars needed for the second and third week. This is because of Michael's age. Also, the punisher will do its job. At any time, they may go for the seven stars and get the additional bonus reward.

In this program, I feel that the children are starting to develop intrinsic rewards. Signing the contract will make them feel good and important. By recording their own achievements on the charts, Michael and Nicole will be able to experience good feelings and pride. Since both children are involved, they can encourage one another. Nicole can be a great model for Michael. The use of the daily reinforcers and our praises should produce good feelings. The children will feel important about choosing dinner for the next day. This is usually a decision that Mom makes. They will also feel important about choosing one of the family activities. All of this should reduce extinction when the other reinforcers will be slowly phased out.

By giving the children rewards every time they come close to the desired behavior, I will increase the chances that the correct response will occur again. I am making the reinforcements dependent upon an obtainable goal.

The process of thinning will be a very slow one because of Michael's age. However, I am not expecting either one of them to do all three chores every day when the three weeks are over. They will continue with their charts. I will continue to give them many opportunities to feel important. Also, I will still use the punisher.

The Results

After running and recording the program, I feel that we have made progress. Michael was totally motivated by the rewards. Nicole was a bit harder. In the second week, she informed me that a sleep-over was not a reward. At the time of the signing of the contract, she felt it was a good reward. Yet, when she had more time to think, she felt differently. She realized that in the past she was able to have sleep-overs without having to work for them. We made some changes. The first week each child only worked three days. They expected Grandma to do their picking up. However, when they were informed that each owed her twenty cents, they changed fast the second week. The second week, Michael did his chores four days. One day he waited too long and fell asleep before he was able to return his shoes and toys to his room. He was not asked to pay, but he did not receive a star for the day. Nicole did all her chores every day for the rest of the program. The third week, she decided to go for the bonus. She made it. Michael never went for the bonus. The third week, he purposely did not do his chores one day. He did not receive a star.

As I said before, my daughter was a great influence on my son. What motivated her the most was the ability to choose the family menu. Another great incentive was the Taco Bell dinner. She also felt very important when she helped her brother make the chart and choose his rewards. Michael was especially proud of himself when he signed the contract. Because of his age, he does not quite understand the value of money. As a result, many times he wanted to pay rather than do the chores. Nicole was there to remind him of the toy he wants to buy. As I am writing this paper, the program is in its fifth week. Michael has finally made it to five stars. I am proud of him.

I have not started the thinning process. This is because I am dealing with two different age groups. However, I feel that I will be able to do it soon. I feel that both children are beginning to see the benefits of being able to find things quickly when they are needed. Nicole has already noticed the extra time she has in the morning. In addition, both children love to hear Grandma making a "big deal" out of their achievements...