Sunday, July 31, 2011

Behavioral challenges - learned or a product of lacking skills

Russell Barkley at the recent keynote speech for CHADD Atlanta Annual Conference said: “The arguing, defiance, refusal is a learned behavior – not genetic, not biological. It arises out of a pattern of behavior we have understood for 40 years. The way parents manage the emotional gambits of the child may make the emotions of the child better or worse and may teach the child that emotions are a tool to use on others. This is known as Coercion Theory. What the child is learning is how to use negative emotion to coerce another into doing what they want, usually leaving them alone." 

The difference between Barkley and CPS

Barkley  - behaviorist – behaviors are learned through external reinforcement and motivation

CPS – behaviors -  demanding situations outstrip skills , already motivated , intrinsic motivation improved by supporting autonomy = kid generates solutions , competence = acquisition of skills using cps and relatedness= non confrontational – addressing both needs

Coercion theory created by Patterson is part of Social Learning theory which explains how behaviors are learned and reinforced. It is essentially behaviorist  - that kids are the sum total of the external stimuli they experience.  Behavior is shaped by consequences  which punish or reward behavior . The child-parent dynamic usually described is the child being aggressive and the parent then fails to be firm and enforce a consequence. Parents who don't follow through with consequences teach kid that their behavior pays to help them get what they want. The theory ignores the whole child, one that has feelings, makes meaning of experiences , his temperament, developmental stage etc and the contribution of the parent to the interaction.  

I agree to some extent with the idea that parents model behavior and kids can learn from them. If parents always use Plan A on their kids, kids will respond with Plan A. In most cases parents are also lacking the skills that are needed for Plan B and continue to use Plan A not because it is working for them , but like children they are doing as well as they can. Even if we say kids perceive these behaviors as working for them , we still need to ask why are they responding in such a maladaptive way. We all try to get attention, avoid uncomfortable tasks and try to get what we want – the difference is how we go about it.
Barkley himself talks about ADHD kids having a problem with executive functions -  the skill of inhibition. The arguing, defiance and refusal can be attributed to the lack of executive functions.

Self Determination theory researchers Deci and Ryan have disproved Patterson's and other behaviorist research that rewards and punishments can reinforce or discourage behaviors. Behaviorists have moved away from punishments – ' honey catches a lot more flies than vinegar' . 

 SDT has shown that rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. Barkley sees ADHD as a deficit in intrinsic motivation and we need external motivators to compensate this lack of intrinsic motivation. But rewards undermine intrinsic motivation. SDT -  we promote intrinsic motivation by supporting the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness . Instead we should use CPS – Barkley does recommend CPS for older kids-  .  It promotes skills , relationship and autonomy .


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