Andrew, remember, tomorrow we have to go to the dentist for a MASSIVELY AWFUL PROCEDURE, wanted to make sure you remembered that was coming

We all do it. It's classic parenting advice that we've received throughout the years to give our kiddos a countdown to upcoming events or activities (or the discontinuation of events or activities). It seems like it makes sense right? Check out the other examples I've given to my little ones:

  • "Gen, Juliana, 5 more minutes to play, then we have to go home"
  • "Nap time after lunch"
  • "Timmy, next month when you visit Dr. Temple, you're getting 4 shots"

What's wrong with the examples above? Nothing if this advanced warning, what we'll call priming, works for the specific individual you're using it with. Priming exists because we've made the assumption that it helps ease transitions or things that are upcoming. If we just remind the individual that this thing is happening, they'll do better when it's actually time for that thing. The assumption is that it's an effective strategy, yet very often, it's not. It can actually work against us by evoking undesirable behavior. 

Dr. Iwata published insightful data on priming, what he called "Advanced Notice," as a technique within the arsenal of ABA strategies and techniques. He identified that learners DO NOT ALWAYS do well with an advanced notice. It's very specific to the individual, so he encouraged data collection to ensure that when you're using it, it's actually utilized to your advantage. In a number of situations, he concluded that an advanced notice was actually more detrimental than helpful because it essentially told the learner that good things were going to end or bad things were coming up. In other words...

FYI, your life is going to get worse, again, just wanted you to know

The point is this, before you use priming or an advanced notice, evaluate whether it works. It does, for certain learners, yet not for all. The simplest way to collect your own data is to track how often the notice results in the desired outcome versus how often it evokes undesirable behavior. Remember that reminding one that "time is running out" can be helpful, yet it can also evoke anxiety especially in young children that really do not need a whole lot of priming to begin with. I'll close with this story. 

I took Genevieve and Juliana to the park 2 weeks ago. Instead of telling them that we needed to go home in 5, I decided to wait the 5 minutes and just tell them when we were leaving. I decided to do that because most of the time (80% or more), when I provide an advanced notice, they just cry and/or tantrum that last 5 minutes because all they're "thinking" of is leaving. This day was different. They took my "Okay girls, it's time to go" as their direction to hop back into the bike trailer. I then reinforced them with tickles for listening so well the first time, all without any priming or advanced notices. 

All that to say, evaluate the effectiveness of your countdowns, priming, and advanced notices. It's either working, or it's not. 

Rob @ Cultivate

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