The objective of Caught Being Good is to provide parents a tool to reinforce naturally occurring positive behavior in children. It has been widely demonstrated that children respond most strongly to positive reinforcement as a motivator. As parents, we often find ourselves punishing negative behavior and playing the role of enforcers. The Caught Being Good app is designed to aid parents who are working to teach and shape behaviors in children in a positive and constructive way. By setting and implementing a plan together, parents and children are more likely to have a harmonious (but never perfect) relationship.

Types of Behavior Modification

There are four types of reinforcement: positive, negative, punishment, and extinction (removing something in order to decrease a behavior). According to allpsych.com, “research has found positive reinforcement is the most powerful of any of these. Adding a positive to increase a response not only works better, but also allows both parties to focus on the positive aspects of the situation.”

How to Modify Behavior

Once we decide to focus on positive reinforcement as our primary tool for shaping behavior, the question is how best to apply it? If children are rewarded with the same thing every time a behavior is exhibited, they quickly learn this and will exhibit the behavior frequently. However, when the linkage between behavior and reward goes away or is interrupted, the child quickly learns that and they stop doing the behavior. For example, if every time your son made his bed without being told you gave him an ice cream cone he would most likely do it on a very regular basis. Unfortunately, if you suddenly stopped giving him the treat he probably would stop making his bed.

The scenario described above is an example of continuous reinforcement. Much more powerful is variable-ratio schedule, which is, “a schedule of reinforcement where a response is reinforced after an unpredictable number of responses. This schedule creates a high steady rate of responding. Gambling and lottery games are good examples of a reward based on a variable ratio schedule.” (Kendra Cherry, About.com Psychology)

The Caught Being Good Way

The Caught Being Good app is designed to leverage the power of partial reinforcement schedules in two ways. First, your child should not have the expectation that he will rewarded ever time he does something good only when you “catch” him doing desirable behaviors spontaneously and without being asked. Second, the rewards themselves are given on a variable ratio schedule meaning that when your child spins the wheel, his chances of getting rewards vary from low value verbal rewards (high probability) to high value tangible rewards (low probability).

Some Final Thoughts

As parents, our goal is not to over engineer our children’s behavior. Ultimately, to succeed in life it is critically important that our children grow to be self-motivated. A reflective, “how did it make you feel to make an A+ on that test? I bet you are very proud of yourself to see your hard work pay off!” is much more powerful in the long run than a slap on the back or an ice cream cone. But the fact is we all seek and respond to positive reinforcement from people we respect and love. That’s a good thing and, in the end, a valuable lesson to pass on to our children.