Positive Behavior Support – More Than Reinforcement

Recently in a talk I was having with some colleagues we were discussing the topic of social skills training and some of the historic short falls.  Upon a follow-up to the zoom call, one of the participants provided a quote from Dawson & Guare stating, “You can’t talk children into using skills they don’t have any more than the right incentive could get you safely down a black diamond run when you can’t even ski the bunny hill.”  I loved that quote!  

Too often we write programs that reach for the stars and say to the individual if you do it, we will give you some form of reinforcement to support you doing it again.  The failure is that we do not break each of the ultimate behavioral expectations down into the skills necessary for the desired outcome for which we are looking.  Social skills goals specifically.  We cannot do generalized social skills training until we know the deficits in all of the items that make up how we define social skills.  It also occurred to me that social skills training must take into consideration the cultures represented in who we are training and norms of that cultural.

If we want to teach a social skill such as conflict resolution, we need to consider all the other skills necessary to accomplish conflict resolution.  Skills such as language, empathy, perception taking, and emotional regulation must first be assessed and strengthened before striving for a skill set of conflict resolution.  Without breaking down all the necessary skills to achieve social or behavior skills outcomes we fall short.  It is not adequate enough to strongly reinforce ultimate skill outcomes without first reinforcing and building the set of skills needed to achieve the ultimate goal.

A quote from Chris Segrin says, “When people become lonely and isolated, whatever social skills they have tend to atrophy from misuse.”  Covid had a big impact on many aspects of peoples lives and socials skills in particular.  As I look back to getting back to where I was over two years ago with my health, I cannot just pick up and go back to running 3 miles.  I have to put the work into the small things and build back up.  Social skills are the same.  We must build up and reinforce the small things before we jump into the greater things.

Tim Geels – Director of Implementation and Governance 

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