Behavior Change Project Evaluation
Identifying the Problem
The issue of thumb-sucking is widely pronounced among younger infants. Very often, they would suck on their thumbs before even leaving the womb. It could be an evidence of the first destructive behavior in babies. Consequently, parents struggle to modify such behaviors before they can cause any damage, either mental or physical. However, sometimes sucking occurs in more situations than just in the aforementioned case. Children tend to bring different objects into their mouths, which is considered to be normal behavior until certain age.
Sometimes, by bringing alien objects to one’s mouth, a child tries to comfort him/herself. It can be explained by combination of the prenatal instinct of sucking that is deeply inherited in human nature and using an object that the child feels certain connection with (a stuffed animal, sleeve of a sweater, favorite blanket). In the given case, the behavior modification was exercised upon a four year old boy, who was compulsively sucking on the edge of his blanket to lull himself to sleep. Several steps took place to interrupt this pattern and over two weeks of time it was changed substantially.
The total length of the experiment constituted 14 days, from July 13th until July 26th. During this time period, different behavior patterns have occurred that were both positive and negative. The amount of times when the enfant would be in close contact with the blanket and the attempted to suck it were the measurements of progress or regress of the given experiment. It was important as a part of behavior modification technique wasto ensure that the child does not feel reprimanded for doing anything “bad”.
Simply taking the blanket away from him was not considered an option because it could cause a psychological trauma on the child. A different plan has been made: blanket’s edges were soaked in bad-tasking edible solutions (a few drops of tobasco sauce, vinegar or bitter lemon). When showing a desired change in the behavior pattern, the boy was given toys as praise. Only positive reinforcement has been used as a tool for stimulating desired behaviors. The primary goal was to completely eliminate the activity, and the alternate aim was to stop blanket sucking only during napping. The contingency goal was aimed at reducing amount of time when the blanket is used at all.
Total amount of time when the boy sucked on the edge of the blanket counted 4 times in the first two days. The process involved numerous tantrums and grumpiness due to the blanket’s taste. The early stages of behavior change are usually characterized by such reactions. On the third day, he has started showing some progress: instead of chewing and sucking the blanket he just rubbed his mouth on it. On the fourth day the boy resumed sucking on his blanket at random spots, but quickly stopped doing it. Such behavior did not converge with his typical action, which was sucking of the edge of the blanket. It could identify early signs of success, as well as change in patterns. On the eighth day of the experiment the boy rubbed his cheek on the blanket as a rudimental sign of affection, which was associated with safety. After it happened, no more oral or oral-like interactions have been noticed.
Throughout the observation one could notice stages of behavioral modification, which are denial and refusing to stop usual behavior, which marked the first 6 days of the experiment. Gradually, the boy has shown transition to the second stage of change, namely the partial acceptance of the situation. From time to time, when the blanket would be returned to him, he would recur to old patterns, but they were much less intense (rubbing as an imitation of chewing).
The second week of the experiment was marked by an attention shift that has been reassured by positive reinforcement. Giving the child toys was a positive stimulation for his behavior, as well as new material for cuddling at night. It was a positive change as the child created a completely different bond with a new toy and did not feel an urge to chew on it when trying to fall asleep or simply to feel safe. On the eleventh day, the boy managed to avoid contacts with a blanket at all. It caused some minor issues but, at the same time, he has shown perfect behavioral dynamics. The blanket was hidden and different reasons were given why it could not be used (blanket is being washed, dried, mended), which the child seemed to accept although with some reluctance.
It was an important stage because common sense behind taking the blanket away was mitigating the stress he was experiencing, as well as teaching him to accept such losses; especially if they are supported by a reason (it could not be simply taken away under a prohibition to use it). It was a positive moment for future upbringing because the last two days of the experiment were marked by a complete absence of violent and dissatisfied behaviors. Moreover, he remained quiet throughout the day not trying to violate the agreement he had made with his mother. The whole experience was not easy but rewarding. Final progress has proven to be considerable, although a lot of creative ways of prevention and elimination of undesired behavior had to be thought of. It was certainly not only good for the boy to have only positive reinforcement of his new habits, but also for his mother who did not have to undergo the standard stress of punishing her child.
Explaining the Success of the Action
Several reasons could influence the relative success of the experiment. First of all, it is the background of the behavior change initiative. Auspicious surrounding, such as presence of mother to soothe the child, keeping him busy, and warm weather to avoid usage of blanket were necessary for the experiment to become successful. Secondly, clear goal setting helped defining further actions and being creative in discouraging the child from sucking on the blanket. It was also marked by positive attitudes that are ethical and practiced in the process of behavior pattern change. Positive reinforcement played a very important role as negative reinforcement in such a young age could create more reluctance in the child not to chew on his blanket.
And lastly, due to the fact that the change was being introduced gradually it was not as stressful and painful for a young person to accept. This experiment certainly evidenced that behaviors can be corrected by using positive attitude towards the problem. People who study psychology can learn from such experiments a lot of behavioral patterns and the way they alternate (aggression-rejection-acceptance-peace).
It cannot be concluded that the experiment was successful until the child stops showing the undesired behavior and refuses from chewing on his blanket completely. Nevertheless, it has reached its primary goal, which is ending the sucking activity altogether. Further incentives for maintaining such behavior should be given to the child as he might still express the need to have his blanket in the moments when he is scared or stressed. Therefore, alternative therapy for preventing or avoiding stressful situations should be implemented. It could include singing lullabies and reading books before going to bed to soothe the boy and put him into sleep. The parent is still advised to stay vigilant for signs of sucking and to trace any undesired occurrences in the behavior.