Behavioral Momentum - The use of a series of high-probability requests to increase compliance with lower-probability requests (Ray, Skinner & Watson, 1999).
Behavioral Momentum is one of those cool ABA terms that sounds exactly like what it is. Behavioral Momentum basically means to build up momentum to what you really want the child to do, by tossing out easy, or “throw away” demands, that they are super likely to do first. Or to put it another way, you approach the child not with what YOU want in mind but with what they are most likely to want to do.
This seems like one of those simple, obvious things that everyone knows to do, right? Wrong.
I see staff or parents make this error all the time: They approach the child and fire off a series of demands, all of which are non-preferred activities. The child then refuses to comply (either vocally or non vocally), and then a power struggle begins, tantrumming comes next, etc. There is a way to prevent this frustrating little cycle of behaviors from happening in the first place.
Taking a few seconds to prepare yourself to use Behavioral Momentum can save so much effort and frustration in the long run, especially if you are dealing with a non-compliant or defiant child, or even a typical “I’m-going-to-test-you-just-because” 4 year old.
Firstly, do you know how to give a demand? If not here is a quick review:
Think of what you want the child to do as your real goal. Cover that goal with 1-3 layers, before presenting it. So if I want Andrea to clean up her toys, I may walk over to her and say:
I initially presented to Andrea a few demands that are easy for her to comply with, and that I know have been successful in the past. For example, every child is not compliant with eye contact. So if I know Andrea struggles with eye contact, I would have used a different task, such as waving or maybe giving me a hug. This is a child-specific technique. What is a super easy behavior for one child may be challenging for another child.
This technique works especially well with more defiant children, who brace themselves as soon as they see an adult approaching. They automatically think you are walking over to them to stop them from doing something fun. For kiddos like that, I may approach them and say:
In that scenario what I really wanted was the video game off. So instead of just walking into the room and saying (as I often hear many parents say) “Turn it off now”, I present simple demands/ask easy questions, and only then present my true demand.
Following the High probability--> High probability--> Low probability sequence is a successful strategy when dealing with non compliant children, or children who do not transition well.
It’s important to provide praise for the easy demands, just like you would for the difficult demand. Remember, you are building a momentum chain. You want the child feeling good and pleased with themselves by the time you present your real demand.
Lastly, using Behavioral Momentum will also minimize you becoming an Aversive Stimulus. An aversive stimulus is something that we learn to avoid or escape from over time, as it is associated with unpleasantness. Kind of the way for some people, going to the dentist is an Aversive Stimulus. If your child knows that every time you approach them and squat down to their level it is to give a demand, it won’t be long before they start running/ walking off when you approach. By using Behavioral Momentum, your approach gets associated with good things, compliments, praise, high fives, tickles, etc.
*Quick Tip: Wondering how to implement Behavioral Momentum with a lower functioning kiddo who doesn’t have many tasks they can easily complete? Try something like this:
- “Carlos, give me 5!” (Hold your hand up very close to the child so they know what to do)
- “Thanks! Tickle attack!” (Tickle the childs stomach or under the neck)
- “Yea! Stomp feet!” (Stand directly in front of the child and stomp your feet)
- “You are amazing! Time to go potty now, lets go!”
** Here are some great resources on Behavioral Momentum: