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Today marks one year for our blog. On September 19th, 2011, we started blogging regularly. The first blog appeared in August of 2011 but we didn’t become regular until September. Of course, we paused for life here and there along the way.

We want to take today to thank all of our readers and followers. We appreciate your support, your criticisms, and your suggestions.

Our all time busiest day so far was April 3, 2012 when we posted about free apps for Autism Awareness

And here are our top 10 posts based on total number of views.

10. Help! My Child Has ADHD

9. Peanut Butter Bread: Battle It Out?

8. My Child Won’t Poop in the Toilet: HELP!

7. Inclusion is an Individualized Decision

6. What Inclusion Teaches Us

5. Updated iPad Application List

4. Homework Habits That Work

3. Autism Awareness Free Apps

2. Using ABA to Teach Math

And the number one post of all time? Do You Use Visual Schedules?

Readers, we love hearing from you. Please let us know if you have any questions to answer about behavior or if you have a topic that you want us to write about. And most importantly, thanks for hanging around.

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Hi and welcome to “What Works Wednesdays” where we share a success story from one of our clinical cases. All names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the child and family. Our intent is to show readers how successful ABA can be.

Today’s success story is about Grace and Sophia, two school-aged girls (7 years an 10 years) who were giving their parents and after-school tutor headaches. The girls engaged in a screaming, tantrums, fighting, back-talk, and non-compliance. Their behaviors were so bad that the tutor had threatened to quit if something didn’t change fast.

A quick observation of the scene on two or three different days allowed us to see some antecedents and consequences that may have been contributing to the homework headaches. First, the girls came off the bus without any plan. Sometimes they played outside, sometimes they watched television, sometimes they had snack, and other times they started homework right away. Second, when the girls misbehaved, each of them received a great deal of attention from the tutor as she lectured them about how and why they needed to behave. When he behaviors escalated to a high enough point, one or both parents swept in to save the poor tutor. The parents intervened by threatening loss of consequences, yelling about how badly the children behaved, or simply instructing the children to “cut it out and get to work”.

Once we assessed the situation, we developed a plan. All good behavior plans consist of antecedent modifications (antecedents are the events that happen before the behavior), the identification of target or replacement behaviors, and modifications of consequences (the events that happen after the behavior).

Antecedent Modifications

Right away, we asked the parents to develop a consistent homework routine. Because of their ages and different needs, one child ate her snack first and then played for 30 minutes before starting homework. The older child ate her snack while organizing her homework. Both girls had the responsibility of putting backpacks, shoes, and lunch boxes away prior to commencing any other activity.

We asked the parents, if they were home and not on a conference call, to come in immediately after the bus and give lots of positive attention. We instructed the parents to remain out of the room during all outbursts, tantrums, an inappropriate behavior. We also asked the parents to come in and give the children praise for any good behavior they observed (sitting, working, staying on task, etc).

Target and Replacement Behaviors

Instead of focusing on how rotten or awful the children were, we asked the tutor to focus on how wonderful the girls were. We identified several behaviors that she wanted to see more of:

  • sitting during homework
  • attending during instruction
  • working when asked
  • working without yelling
  • asking for assistance without crying or yelling
  • putting personal items away without being asked

Changes to Consequences

We implemented a token system for the girls. Each girl had a sticker chart. When the sticker chart was full, the girls could trade it in for $.50 they could deposit in to their bank account. Stickers could be given out freely by either parent or the tutor. We asked that whoever awarded the sticker to take extra care and identify exactly which target behavior resulted in the sticker award.

  • “excellent Sophia. You started work without yelling.”
  • “wonderful Grace, you put your lunch box away.”

We implemented a brief time-out procedure for Grace, who loved television. We made 10-minute TV Time coupons. Each day at the beginning of homework, the parents identified how many minutes of TV time were available (30 minutes or 60 minutes). Each time that Grace involved in yelling, screaming, tantrumming, back-talking, or non-compliance, the tutor removed one of the coupons.

Within 2 days, the frequency of inappropriate behaviors decreased to zero! The behaviors have maintained for 6 weeks with no signs of reversing. Congratulations to Grace and Sophia for your homework progress. Congratulations to your parents and tutor for helping you do it.

Readers, please share. What strategies do you use during homework sessions? What works for your children? Behavior analysts, what strategies have you used? How well did they work?

 

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Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about behavior. Today’s question comes from Suzanne, who asks:

“Hi, Missy. I feel so embarrassed to ask this question because, as a parent, I feel that I should know how to get my children to do homework. However, in our house, we struggle with homework every day. Please help us!

One of our kids has a meltdown every time he sees how many pages of work he has to do. Our other child actually starts his homework right away but he cannot stay focused. He is up and down constantly. No wonder it takes hours for him to finish! Last but not least, our youngest doesn’t have homework yet because she is still in kindergarten. She runs around the house making so much noise that the other two have a hard time focusing. Clearly, I am not up for Mother of the Year Award. Any help you can provide will be appreciated.”

First, Suzanne, you have to stop beating yourself up over this. Please understand that what you have described is identical to scenes from many other houses. Parents just do not want to share the horror stories for fear of being judged a bad parent. I am certain that those parents are thanking you for asking about this on their behalf.

I have a few tips to help get you started. Please let me know how it goes and I can make adjustments to the plan as they progress.

Routine

One of the most important things you can do to help your children is to establish a homework routine. Depending on after school activities (e.g., sports, music, play dates), the routine may change from day-to-day. None the less, the routine should be the same once it starts.

  • In our house, we like to get a healthy snack in before the work starts. This gives children the energy to stay focused and it prevents them from getting too hungry before dinner.
  • Next, we organize the homework so we know exactly what needs to be done.
  • We use a “to do” list or an agenda to identify each of the activities that should be completed. Our children take great pride in crossing items off that list.
  • I allow the children to choose which items they work on from the list. This allows them to have some control over the situation.

Reinforce

What advice could possibly come from a behavior analyst that doesn’t include the use of reinforcement? Of course you must spend a great deal of time reinforcing the behaviors that you want to see more. Depending on the age of your children, they may be able to practice some self-management strategies so that they reinforce themselves rather than you having to do all the work.

The reinforcers that you use during this time need to be individualized to your children. One child may be ready for a token system, while another child may need verbal praise. Ask your children to help identify reinforcers that they are willing to work for. Keep in mind that outrageous reinforcers such as cars, iPads, or computers should not be used. However, working for access to such items is completely appropriate (e.g., earn access to the car on the weekend, earn access to TV time).

  • Consider using stickers on a sticker chart. At the end of the week, cash the completed sticker chart in for a bigger reward (e.g., pizza night, movie)
  • Consider using coins and a bank as reinforcers. This helps the child learn about money and it also teaches the child to save. At the end of the week, your child can cash in his savings
  • Give your children attention and praise for engaging in the correct behaviors (e.g., “I love the way you are getting so much done!”)
  • Have a reinforcer available at the end of each homework session. This could be TV time, electronics time, or Wii Time. Make it brief (30 minutes or less) but it should be available immediately after each homework session.

Work Breaks

The behavior analysts who read this blog will immediately recognize that this, too, is another form of reinforcement. In behavior analysis we call work breaks “negative reinforcement”. There is not enough space in this blog post to explain the difference between positive and negative reinforcement. I promise to distinguish between the two at another time. But for now, please know that work breaks are important for children to remain focused during homework time.

  • Set a timer so your child knows when the break is coming
  • Work breaks are brief. 5-10 minutes–tops
  • Work breaks are free choice activities as long as no other house rules are broken (e.g., climbing on furniture or running in the house)
  • All children are on a work break together so they do not disrupt each other on break

Educational Support

I believe that all homework should be supplemented with manipulatives and other types of support.

  • Our children use the iPad to look up words in the dictionary. They use the iPad to practice their sight words. They use the iPad to practice their math facts.
  • When our oldest was learning to add fractions, we made it real by finding recipes and doubling the batch. We brought out the measuring cups and spoons and it made the math more real for her.
  • There is no better way to learn about geography, weather, or science than by scouring the internet for videos, photos, and other multi-media.

Planned Activity

Last but not least, I have to address the needs of your child who does not yet have homework. Homework time is an excellent time to start teaching the homework routine to her. I feel strongly that all children should read every day. Thus, she needs to spend part of homework time reading. If she cannot read yet, then you should read to her. You could also rent or download books on tape so that she can listen to a book. Additionally, there are many interactive books available for the iPad. If you don’t have one in your house, I recommend saving up for one as there are so many educational applications available to help each of your children with their homework.

After your daughter does her “homework” then find an activity for her to keep her engaged.

  • This can be special time with you or it can be an activity that she needs to do independently.
  • We love using the Wii for exercise and engagement. She could entertain herself for hours on a number of games.
  • You could also give her house chores so that she feels important. She can help unload the dishwasher, she can help with the laundry, or she can dust furniture

Suzanne, thanks for writing. I hope these tips help. Please let me know how it goes!

Readers, do you have anything to add?

If you have a behavior question or problem, email Missy at askmissy at appliedbehavioralstrategies dot com.

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