Understanding Problems
Learning Social Rules
Establishing Relationships
FAR Ideas
Using FAR at Home
Getting Started & Intro
Find the Key
Clean the Room
Activity Sheets
Library of Activity Sheets
GoFAR Forms
Do2Learn Resources

Session 2 - Learning Social Rules

To change children’s behavior, we can use Social Learning Rules. These are very powerful ways to support positive behavior.  If you understand them, you can apply them to supporting self-regulation and modifying arousal.

  • Behavior is learned. How to interact is learned.
  • The current situation maintains behavior and interactions.  No matter where things were first learned, they continue because of what is happening now.
  • Behavior and interactions can be changed.
  • We follow the “Law of Reciprocity”. This is just the “Golden Rule”, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Psychologists say that if you expect someone to respond positively to you, you must respond positively to them. If you respond negatively to someone, you can expect that they will respond negatively to you.

To change behavior, you have to understand Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences.

  • An Antecedent is the something that comes before.  This can be the surroundings, an event, or a behavior.
  • Behaviors. This is any action taken by the child.  We classify them into 3 categories.
    • Desirable behaviors. Behaviors that you would like to maintain (keep) or increase.
    • Undesirable behaviors. Behaviors that you would like to decrease or go away.
    • Neutral Behaviors. Behaviors that are not of interest (that are not important for the problem).
  • Consequences. These are events or actions that follow a behavior.  They can happen naturally or be planned. For instance, a natural consequence occurs when a child throws an object and it breaks. A planned consequences occurs when a child throws an object and it is taken away and placed out of reach.  We can classify consequences into 3 categories.
    • Desirable consequence. The child perceives the result as pleasant.
    • Undesirable consequence. The child perceives the result as unpleasant.
    • Neutral consequence.  The consequence is not of interest.

So now we can use these ideas to think about how to support a child’s behavior.  We know that consequences that are pleasant tend to increase behavior while unpleasant consequences tend to decrease them. However, the most important thing to understand is that pleasant consequences are more powerful than unpleasant ones. For that reason, we are going to start by talking about things that reinforce behavior, or need "reinforcers".

Reinforcement and the Praise Rule

  • Reinforcement means to give your child a consequence that will increase the frequency of a behavior.
    • Giving the child something he/she likes (i.e., applause, a hug, a cookie).
    • Taking away something that the child doesn’t like.
  • Reinforcers can be tangible (something you can handle, put in the bank) or intangible (your attention).
  • Intangible or social reinforcers (ie., praise, applause, hugs) are better to use than the tangible ones. Children are less likely to get tired of them.
  • Attention from other people is one of the most powerful of all reinforcers.  This can be true of both positive and negative attention.

The “Praise Rule”

When your child behaves in a way you want him/her to, respond with positive attention and praise. There are some “praise” techniques that can help.

  • Briefly describe for the child what he/she just did and tell them it was well done. Say “Good job” or “well done”.
  • If you want to improve self-regulation, praise the child when they are maintaining a calm state even when you know that there may be a reason for becoming upset. For instance, they didn’t get their first choice on something.  You should also praise them once they get calm after being very upset.  This will reinforce them for making the effort to control themselves.

Identifying reinforcers

While most children enjoy praise, you may need other reinforcers as well.  Here is a table with some examples.  You can make one like this for your own child. It lists some examples of positive reinforcers and the behaviors that they are designed to increase.  The last column is for your comments about how well they work. 
It is important to remember:

  • A child’s interest in a particular reinforcer may change over time.
  • Parents need to monitor how well the reinforcer is working and change plans if necessary.

What are Reinforcers for Your Child?

Positive Reinforcers

Behaviors that Increase

Usefulness Evaluation

Candy (MM’s, chocolate bar)

Cleaning room

This worked the first few times that I tried it but now my child does not care

Giving hugs

Cleaning room; picking up toys

Seems to work most of the time

Praise-saying “good job”

Picking up toys, finishing homework

Seems to work most of the time

Giving an allowance at the end of the week

Cleaning room, picking up toys

Seems to only work for a day or two and then my child gives up-not sure how much to give when only did this on Monday and Tuesday?

Time playing videogames

Cleaning room; doing other household chores

This increases the behavior but my child gets angry if he cannot do it right away. I also don’t like some of the material in the videogame.

Negative Reinforcers

Behaviors that Increase

Usefulness Evaluation

Letting your child skip doing dishes or any regular chore

Getting homework done

My child was happy to not have to do dishes and was willing to work on his homework.

Letting your child not eat their broccoli

Child willing to finish eating their carrots

Works but they may need another source of vitamin C

Stop yelling at my child

Child picks up toys

Child doesn’t want to be around me; angry with me all the time

The “Ignore Rule”

Many behaviors can be ignored.  If you don’t need to address a behavior to increase or decrease it, just turn away and don’t respond to the child. 

  • Remember that your attention is a strong reinforcer and that you can increase negative behaviors by your attention. 
  • The best example is a temper tantrum. As long as the temper tantrum does not involve the child injuring themselves or others or something of value, it should be ignored.  Ignoring means physically turning away and refusing to acknowledge or talk to the child.  
  • However, when you first ignore a behavior problem you may find that it increases for a period before going away.  This is just the child “upping the ante” to gain attention.


A punishment is a consequence that decreases a behavior.
There are several ways to think about punishment. 

  • Positive Punishment. An undesirable outcome or consequence.
  • Negative Punishment. This is when a desirable outcome/consequence is removed. (Taking away a toy or a privilege.)

The “Punish Rule”

If any attention is directed toward the child who is engaged in a negative behavior, the attention should be negative or punishing.  (For example, the child should be placed in “time out”).

Remember that punishment or negative consequences are not as effective as positive consequences. Therefore, punishment should be used very rarely. 

  • Only use when the child does something to hurt him/herself or others or something of value.
  • Children can get used to punishments and they will lose their effectiveness.

What are Punishers for Your Child?

Positive Punishers

Behaviors that Decrease

Usefulness Evaluation

Wiping the floor

Throwing food from the table

Seems to have worked-my child no longer throws food

Lecturing my child

Yelling in the house

Doesn’t seem to work for long

Picking up toys

Throwing toys out of the toy box

This seems to work-now my child just moves the toys in the toy box when looking for a new toy

Negative Punishers

Behaviors that Decrease

Usefulness Evaluation

Taking away television time for a week

Hitting others

Seemed to work the first day but did not afterwards

Putting a toy out of reach

Fighting with his sister over the toy

This seemed to work when we put the toy in time-out. They now take turns

Making the child clean his room

Throwing things around and knocking over stuff

My child got frustrated and just cried-cleaning his room seemed overwhelming to him