There are different ways to achieve the desired behavior in children. Researchers have developed a number of theories and learning models that provide valuable insights into peculiarities of people’s behavior and learning. Each theory can be applicable in many settings but there are also cases when only certain models can be employed, as the rest of them will be inefficient.
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In the present case, it is possible to consider the following learning models: generalized imitation and over-imitation, vicarious reinforcement, operant learning model as well as social learning of aggression. It is clear that spanking is the least appropriate method to show the child that stealing is bad. Bandura’s research shows that aggression leads to aggressive behavior in the majority of cases (Hart & Kritsonis, 2006).
Thus, children who observed violent behavior simply imitated it in similar situations. Notably, boys and girls were almost equally aggressive. Hence, spanking Ben will make the boy think that any inappropriate behavior should lead to aggression (spanking, in this case). The boy will use the same method when he will face situations in which somebody will act inappropriately.
Ben will inevitably spank other children, as he will not know any other way to react to improper behavior. This can have even more serious implications as the behavior learned in the childhood may remain during adulthood. Ben may think that aggression and physical violence can be used in many situations in the future.
More so, spanking is also impossible to utilize in the present case. According to Bandura, if aggressive behavior is accompanied by certain type of reinforcement (for example, social approval), this behavior will be used in similar settings (Hart & Kritsonis, 2006).
As for the present case, the reaction of the owner of the shop can be regarded as social approval. The owner says that Ben’s caregiver should spank the boy. Hence, Ben will see that many people (at least, two adults) think that spanking (aggression, violence) is the most acceptable way to respond to inappropriate behavior.
Clearly, it is better to use another social learning model to teach Ben that stealing is bad. Although punishment can be employed, it should not be associated with violence or aggression. At that, it can be more appropriate to utilize reinforcement in this case. It is necessary to evaluate a number of learning models to choose the most appropriate one.
It is possible to start with over-imitation and generalization. Children often imitate other people’s (often adults’) behavior even without any reinforcement (Chance, 2008). This can be explained by historical preconditioning as people’s survival often depended on their ability to imitate certain behavior of models. However, in the present case, the boy does not imitate his caregiver’s behavior and does not follow her instructions.
Hence, Ben’s desire to have a gum is stronger than his willingness to imitate certain behavior. Operant learning model can be applied in this case and lead to positive results. This learning model implies the use of positive and negative reinforcement as well as negative and positive punishment (Chance, 2008).
Skinner, who was one of the pioneers in this field, conducted a number of experiments with mice placed in, the so-called, Skinner’s box. Thus, when the mouse’s behavior was appropriate positive reinforcer was provided or negative reinfocer was taken away. Punishment was also used. Thus, it is believed that the use of these tools helps to achieve the necessary goals.
In the present case, the boy can be punished, which will teach him that certain behavior (stealing) can lead to undesirable consequences (punishment). Later, positive reinforcement can be used to show that desirable behavior can be rewarded (by buying some fruit or something of value to Ben).
In the present case, vicarious reinforcement can also be employed. Fox and Bailenson (2009) note that this model has proved to be effective in many settings. Thus, people (especially children) are more likely to imitate certain behavior when they observe that another person is rewarded for it. Likewise, people do not behave in a certain way if they see that others have been punished for it.
Fox and Bailenson (2009) conduct an experiment with the use of technology; they note that the model is efficient and can be applicable in many cases. However, in the case with Ben, it is better to use a combination of operant learning and vicarious reinforcement. It is possible to develop a modification program to teach Ben that stealing is bad, based on the two models.
Thus, in the first place, it is possible to work out some preventive measures. It is necessary to be more attentive when shopping with Ben. It is necessary to discuss his wants and explain why he cannot have this or that product. Thus, the caregiver should have explained to Ben why he could not have the gum. The boy should understand why he could not have the gum (which can be a punishment, response to certain health problem, desire to be healthier and so on).
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Besides, it is important to make Ben understand that stealing is bad. Vicarious punishment and reinforcement can be used in this case. It is possible to watch some cartoons and movies with Ben. These should be stories concerning stealing. The caregiver should talk to Ben and discuss the reasons why stealing is bad.
It is possible to discuss the feelings of the person whose things have been stolen and ask Ben if he felt fine in such situations. Of course, the thief should be punished in the cartoons and movies watched. It can be beneficial to watch a video where a child is praised for behaving in a proper way. All these materials can be found online.
Clearly, it is necessary to undertake certain steps while being in the shop. Ben’s caregiver can explain to Ben that stealing is bad and that his behavior is inappropriate. Ben should say sorry and it is possible to ask him to explain why he took the gum after all. Of course, Ben will give the gum back to the owner.
Ben’s caregiver should praise the boy for such a good and brave behavior. She should tell Ben that it is quite difficult to confess in such bad deeds and only brave boys can do that. Of course, it is important to add that brave boys also never steal, as they prefer talking everything over and trying to obtain what they want without shameful cheating.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the present case can be an example of the use of a combination of vicarious reinforcement and operant learning model. The boy has to learn a lesson that stealing is bad. Punishment as well as vicarious reinforcement and positive reinforcement can be used to make Ben understand that stealing is inappropriate. It is also important to note that Ben’s caregiver should be more attentive and more informative next time. The boy should understand why exactly he cannot have this or that product.
Chance, P. (2008). Learning and behavior: Active learning edition. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Fox, J., & Bailenson, J.N. (2009). Virtual self-modeling: The effects of vicarious reinforcement and identification on exercise behaviors. Media Psychology, 12, 1-25.
Hart, K.E., & Kritsonis, W.A. (2006). Critical analysis of an original writing on social learning theory: Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models by: Albert Bandura, Dorothea Ross and Sheila A. Ross (1963). National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journal, 19(3), 1-7.