Categories
Behaviour Management

2 Styles: How Do You Communicate With Kids?

Paul Watzlawick was a family therapist and communication theorist. As part of his work, he detailed five principles of communication to consider. One of these was the idea that there are two types of interactions between people. Relationships and interactions can be symmetrical or complementary. I find this to be interesting when contemplating which one works best for children with emotional or behavioural needs.

A symmetrical relationship interaction involves two individuals mirroring each other’s behaviour or emotions. The two parties minimise the differences between each other. A practical example would be when a student gets angry, the teacher responds by getting angry or vice versa. Alternatively, a teacher may be indifferent about a topic of conversation and a child mimics this indifference. When this is the prevalent dynamic of a relationship, behaviour and emotions can escalate. Have you ever had a symmetrical relationship with a child in your class? What about a colleague or friend?

A complementary relationship or interaction results in the two parties having two distinct roles. One person is in the “one-up” position and one person is in the “one-down” position. In a complementary relationship, one person’s persistent aggression would lead to the other’s constant withdrawal. Equally, one person’s habitual negativity could lead to the other’s consistent positive outlook. 

Is symmetrical or complementary better?

Naturally, a teacher may feel that a complementary relationship is best where they are in an assertive “one-up” position while the student is in the compliant “one-down” position. However, neither a symmetrical or complementary relationship is productive all the time. Different children and different teachers require different interactions and relationships dependent on the context. Problems can arise when a relationship becomes stuck in one style of interaction.

For example, if a child has persistent aggressive, angry tendencies and a teacher is habitually meeting this with a symmetrical response of mirroring the emotions through confrontation and reprimanding, it may be time to consider a complementary approach. Take the “one-down” role when they get angry and adopt a calm demeanour and style of interaction. Will this de-escalate the situation?

Equally, a parent may be passive about a child’s behaviour which is being mirrored by the teacher. The relationship may be positive but are the changes that need to occur happened? It could be the perfect opportunity to switch up the style of interactions to complementary and inject some urgency.

The answer nobody wants

If there were black-and-white answers to supporting children with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties, they wouldn’t exist. Like everything we consider, it is trial-and-error and a reflective process. If you’re supporting a child, working with a parent or just interested in communication, consider which of the two relationships you have and contemplate whether it is productively serving you or in need of a change.

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Categories
Special Education Verbal Behaviour

Verbal Behaviour Theory: What is it and How can it help?

Photo Credit: shorturl.at/HMU48

I have attended three workshops over the past few days and committed to making a post on each workshop about the key facts and actionable steps that I considered important having digested the information that was relayed. To give a wider context, I have recently switched roles to teaching in a special class for teaching children with autism. So the three workshops are tied into improving my teaching in topics related to this. I will break down my first workshop on Verbal Behaviour into theory and practice trying to be as simplistic as possible to give you a general sense of what it is and whether you’d like to research it further.

Theory

The cliff notes around the theory were:

  • Language is learned in response to the environment. The elements that influence language learning are motivation, reinforcement, extinction and punishment.

N.B. Punishment is meant in the applied behaviour analysis sense as something which decreases a behaviour.

  • When thinking about language and communication, consider the antecedent, behaviour and consequence.

E.g The child sees a biscuit is the antecedent.

      The child says “biscuit” is the behaviour.

      The child gets the biscuit is the consequence.

In this instance, the behaviour (the child speaking) is likely to increase as they got reinforced through getting the biscuit. Consider the inverse of this, if a child takes your hand and drags you to the biscuit and you give it to them, this is the behaviour that will increase.

  • With language, we can consider form (grammar, syntax) and function (why they are speaking). When working with children with language delay or who are emerging speakers, function is equally – if not more – important than form so they can communicate needs and requests.
  • Skinner defined eight kinds of “verbal operant” which is in layman terms, forms of verbal behaviour, these are:
    1. Echoic – repeating back words, parroting
    2. Imitation – Repeating back actions, very important it is part of any verbal behaviour programme.
    3. Mand – Asking for what you want. Obviously, this is critical.
    4. Tact – Labelling what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
    5. Intraverbal – Conversation, finishing off a rhyme or song, giving a description etc.
    6. Receptive by feature, function and class aka RFFC – Allows children to respond to questions like “what has a tail?” or “What can you do with these items?”.
    7. Textual – Reading, this is social when learning and for pleasure when proficient.
    8. Transcription – Writing what is heard.

The key points for me on the theory were thinking about how language and the speed at which it is acquired is affected by motivation and reinforcement. Children will learn when they are motivated to or rewarded for it. This can be done through ensuring they need to speak or by rewarding them with a truly desirably object when they do. If you took nothing else from this post, this would be the one fact to ruminate on.

Practice:

There was so much information given in the workshop today but I boiled it down to four actionable steps which I will be taking with me as I progress:

  1. In a classroom where the goal is to increase the children’s ability to request an item they want using verbal behaviour, consider spending the first half an hour of the day working on this. Have items which the children like out of reach and visible around the room. Give the items to the children for a number of minutes when they use the word/point at the picture in their PECS book/sign the word or however they are communicating. This session starts the day off on a positive note if you are in a special class as the child and adult will find it easier to establish rapport.
  2. Manipulate the classroom environment as there are not enough scenarios in a day to motivate the children to request items. For example, give children a yogurt with no spoon. Start an art task with missing supplies. The idea here is that the children use the language to request the items. It was emphasised that the children are not ignored if they are struggling, they can be prompted to repeat the work after you if that is the level they are at, for example.
  3. Use shaping, reward the child for making successive attempts at getting closer to the desired result. It was recommended to have just a list of ten core words for this. If they want a bottle, for example, the first day they might say “BaBa”. On subsequent days, the child shouldn’t be reinforced by getting the bottle until they get to that same level or to a slight improvement. If they say “Ba”, this should not be reinforced. Prompting the child and encouraging repeating the word will help.
  4. Use the Verbal Behaviour Milestones Assessment and Placement Programme (VB-MAPP) to help assess and guide your teaching of verbal behaviour. This is an extremely comprehensive programme which will help you identify where the child is at and how to get them to the next stage with suggested tasks broken down step-by-step. I couldn’t even start to breakdown this programme in a few words but it is extremely impressive and is something I will definitely be recommending to teachers teaching children with autism or language delays.

Concluding Thoughts

Skinner’s theory on language and verbal behaviour is extremely interesting and easy to grasp. I really think the concepts are worthwhile and intriguing. The actionable steps that are borne from the theory are pretty simple to incorporate in the classroom and I will certainly be using the VB-MAPP to guide me in assessing the children’s current position and planning the way forward as it is so comprehensive.

A really worrying point was made today that language acquisition is being delayed in some children as they don’t get as much motivation and reinforcement for using language in the early developmental stages as children used to years ago.

The reason?

Adults are spending more time on their phones than attending to their child.

The last thing I would suggest reflecting on is if you have a child who is a selective mute or an emerging speaker, have you ever fulfilled the need of the child before they have to speak? When you see them struggle to reach something silently, do you walk over and hand it down? I know I have and with this workshop in mind, perhaps this kind of reaction borne out of kindness is actually hindering the child’s acquisition of language. Lots to consider!