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TherapistMaryAnn, Counselor
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 5805
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues
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I have a question about behavior modification. lets say an

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I have a question about behavior modification. lets say an adult (xx) does something wrong accidentally due to forgetfulness. Lets say xx notices and confronts him about it. In her mind, she knows it was not purposeful but feels like xx should have been more careful so she asks him not to forget again. xx apologizes and says it was unintentional. Later xx follows up with an email explaining why this is an important issue and why he shouldn't do it again. Do you think xx's tactics are an effective form of behavior modification? In a situation like this (and I know its vague - sorry!), what types of actions would you recommend for xx to get xx to change his behavior? Sorry for the vagueness - I want an unbiased answer and if I tell it in detail it will become clear what my role is.

Hello, I'd like to help you with your question. Behavior modification involves positive or negative reinforcement to alter someone's behavior to a preferred outcome. Writing a email to someone about their behavior could be effective but two factors have to be considered- how xx feels about disappointing xx and therefore his willingness to change his behavior for her and two, if xx views the email as a negative reinforcement. A better technique is to use positive reinforcement. That not only creates a stronger bond between xx and xx (if they are in a relationship) making for a better relationship, but it also makes xx feel better and more likely to respond. So next time xx forgets something and apologizes, it would be helpful for xx to make a big deal over the apology and thank xx for thinking of her. And each time after that when xx does something for xx, she should thank him the same way as well as show him positive attention. The more xx gets positive reinforcement for thinking of xx, the more likely it is he will be motivated to do so in the future. I hope this has helped you, Kate

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

This is helpful. I have some followups... You wrote, "how xx feels about disappointing xx and therefore his willingness to change his behavior for her" - xx had already apologized and expressed that he felt badly. The thing about this particular incident is that it was accidental/due to forgetfulness, so I don't necessarily know that positive reinforcement would work, either, since everyone forgets at one point or another. And this was one of those "happens once every six months" kind of issues. 99.9% of the time, xx does everything right, but 0.1% of the time he screws up, and this is a big deal to xx due to the nature of the issue itself. Any behavior modification tricks when someone knows that something is a big deal, feels badly about it, but simply has forgetful tendencies?

Forgetfulness is different than a learned behavior. Behavior modification is most effective with behavior that has been learned and therefore can be changed. Forgetting is more a matter of personality and therefore finding ways to remember. You can work on reminders which would be more effective. For example, if xx forgets to buy milk, having him put a reminder on his phone and having it ring him at a certain time would be much more effective than positive or negative reinforcements. You could use positive reinforcement when he does remember something but how effective that might be is unclear. Kate

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thanks! That is very helpful. xx's experience was such that when she was a child, her parents acted very harshly toward her (strong verbal rebuke, punishment, etc.) whenever she forgot about something like this and she thinks back positively about that experience and considers it to have been effective. What are your thoughts about the verbal rebuke/punishment method and its effectiveness? Also, I would like to be able to mention your recommendation of "creating reminders" if/when this comes up again (which it probably will). Is there an official term for this technique?

There is no official term for creating reminders. It is just a way to deal with forgetfulness.
Verbal rebuke of a child can be effective if it is done in a loving way. But if it is done harshly, it can affect a child's self esteem and even be considered emotional abuse.
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