Teacher and StudentIn our last behavioral conversation we talked about the definition of a behavior. A behavior is the action towards, interaction with, or reaction to a stimulus event. The determining factor in whether or not the stimulus event causes an action, reaction, or interaction is found in your prior experiences and observations. In this manner, experiences must be defined as events you have participated in as well as those you have observed.

For this conversation let’s start at the beginning. I am a big believer in John Watson’s Tabula Rasa, or clean slate. When we come into the world we likely have predispositions and preferences and even certain temperaments that lead to types of behaviors. There are kids who are naturally outgoing and others who are naturally shy. There are kids who are extremely patient and others who are naturally volatile. These predispositions can point a child towards a certain type of reactive behavior but the actual use of a behavior is determined by the authority construct of the environment in which the behavior is applied.

How we treat other people, interact with them, and react to certain situations are learned through time and these experiences, tempered by predispositions, shape our behavioral patterns. As we begin to observe and participate in life and collect experiences we develop an “experiential knowledge base”. This is the culmination of our life’s experiences, both first hand and witnessed. This is a very important thing to understand when talking about behaviors.

Think of it like this, if a child grows up in a home where people yell at each other when they become angry, what is that child likely to do when he is in an anger provoking situation? He is likely to yell. This isn’t an innate force nor is it something he has practiced, even if he has a naturally aggressive temperment. Instead it is a learned behavior that he has gained not by practice but by observation. By watching those around him act this way he is now more likely to have a similar behavior in response to a similar stimulus. Yelling isn’t the best nor the appropriate response but it is what he has learned. So to stop the yelling, an educator has to realize they are overcoming behaviors that were taught through observation and then put into practice in an environment that condones that sort of behavior.

Another example is of a shy girl who never raises her hand in class nor does she try to make eye contact with anyone. She may have been born with a quiet and even passive temperament but she has become shy because it is the type of behavior she has observed, practiced, and now become comfortable within. Because she has not been a witness to self assertion and confidence she has never practiced it herself. She has since found solitude and even comfort from social withdrawal. As an educator you must recognize that you have to overcome more than just her shyness. You have to overcome her personal comfort zone that was self taught through observation and then practice.

Our experiences are the baseline from which we behave. Understanding a child’s social and familial background can give you great insight into the types of behavioral tendencies you are likely to see and therefore likely to need to change. It isn’t easy to change taught behaviors but like anything that is taught, the behavior can be re-taught in a more acceptable manner if the re-teaching of the behavior truly serves to replace the function of the original behavior. You can change the boys yelling habits by teaching him more socially acceptable ways of dealing with anger. You can teach the shy girl how to open up and interact with others. You just need to know the levels and depth of their experiences and how ingrained these behaviors are in their experiential knowledge base. Then the work begins.

To be continued…

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