Kids naturally behave in ways that adults don’t like sometimes. Although this is “normal” in the sense that all kids will misbehave once in awhile, the job of parents is to help kids learn to behave well, to behave appropriately.
Kids crave attention from their parents and from other important adults in their lives. Parents can use this need for attention to help their child behave better.
The science of behavior, a science that helps us understand why people act the way they do and how they learn new skills and new behaviors, tells us that giving kids attention “just because” can help kids act better. This strategy can help kids behave more appropriately.
The scientific term for giving kids attention for no particular reason is using noncontingent reinforcement with attention as the reinforcer.
To help a child behave better, a parent could plan to give their child attention at certain times throughout the day.
Some things to consider when using this strategy include:
- How often the parent will give their child attention
- In what ways will the attention be given
- Will the parent need to reduce the amount of attention they give (for instance, if it is unrealistic to give a lot of attention for long periods of time)
Deciding how often to give a child attention could be based on many factors – from how much the child behaves in ways that are for the purpose of getting attention to the time parents have available to focus solely on their child. It might also depend on the child’s age and level of functioning.
One example is that a parent could aim to give attention to their child every 30-60 minutes.
Giving noncontingent attention will look different for every parent and child. It will typically include being physically near the child although it may be attention given at a distance in some situations such as texting or video chatting with a teen.
Giving attention noncontingently might involve simply talking to a child and making positive comments about what they are doing.
While giving attention, it’s important not to give very many instructions to the child. Placing expectations on a child during this strategy can counteract the purpose of this technique. Instead, by telling the child what to do, he or she might actually misbehave more.
If it is decided that the parent will give a high amount of attention when using this strategy, such as giving 5 minutes of attention every 20 minutes, and it is also unrealistic for the parent to keep giving this much attention for a long time, it is important to slowly increase the time between giving the child attention or reduce the attention “sessions.”
Using noncontingent reinforcement with attention as the reinforcer can reduce problem behaviors and help kids act better.
Professionals who provide parent training services can access more resources and guidance in the ABA Parent Training Membership Program.
Parents who would like more guidance and support can join the waitlist for the online ABA Parent Training Ecourse for Parents.
Krasno A.M. (2013) Noncontingent Reinforcement (NCI). In: Volkmar F.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Springer, New York, NY