Identifying, Fixing And Avoiding The Criticism Trap (with Michael Maloney, founder of the Maloney Method)

Identifying, Fixing And Avoiding The Criticism Trap Featured Image

Michael Maloney joined Erika Ng to branch out from reading interventions a little bit and discuss the criticism trap—or inadvertently giving children attention for the wrong behaviors. This is something all families can struggle with and can become a problem as it breaks down rapport and the relationship between a parent and child. Listen to learn how to identify, fix and avoid the criticism trap.

Interview Highlights:

  • Over the course of his 45 year career in behavior science, Michael Maloney has written 30 books and taught over a hundred thousand children to read. He has another 30 books that he says he’d still like to write, and he just came out with a reading instruction app that’s effective in teaching kids to read through highly structured lessons. [1:02]
  • The slogan for his app is, “If you can read, you can teach your child to read”. [1:25]
  • Michael has also helped thousands of adults learn to be proficient readers and go on to be successful in college. [1:30]
  • Currently Michael is working on a literacy project where he’s serving 2,500 children in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh in which mothers are teaching their children to read from their cell phone. [1:39]
  • Michael also provides behavior consultation to families both locally and via telehealth using behavior science. [2:01]
  • They spent four years setting up programs in schools for children with exceptional learning needs. Michael started his own learning center, which very quickly morphed into a school because the parents kept telling him it wasn’t enough for their children to come for two hours each week. They encouraged him to start a school. [4:36]
  • Michael started a school and ran for three years until the computer age came along and they started developing software. It became difficult to manage both and Michael thought they could reach more people with the software. Michael and his team created their first package and then went on to write Scholastic’s leading line of mass software in the early 1980s. [5:02]
  • At the moment, Michael has about 50 families he and his team are working with. Most of the work is being done by BCBA’s and other professionals in the field and he’s coaching those professionals [6:40]
  • 85% of all children in Special Education programs show no change over the course of a school year. If your child is a Special Education student, the likelihood is they’re not going to find a solution to that child’s learning challenges. Fortunately, Michael has a solution but unfortunately, most teachers don’t know about it [9:00]

“The behavior problem typically is just masking an academic deficit..” 

— Michael Maloney

  • The behavior problem typically is just masking an academic deficit. [10:14]
  • Unfortunately, many behavioral psychologists and practitioners are only into reducing behavior. [10:50]

“We shouldn’t be reducing behavior, we should be replacing behavior.” — Michael Maloney

  • Michael has given up on public school systems. He works with some charter schools in the US, such as a group of charter schools in North Carolina. [11:42]

“Don’t blame the teachers. If you’re not prepared to do the training that they need to deliver a product that works, then it’s on you, not on them. And isn’t certainly not on the child.” — Michael Maloney

  • 60% of foster children never graduate high school. Michael was asked by their local Children’s Aid Society to do some work with a dozen kids that were well behind in reading. This attracted the attention of Ottawa University. They went on to do four different research studies with professors at the University. [14:15]

“We train the parents to become the tutors.” — Michael Maloney

  • In terms of regular clientele, Michael would ask them to sit down and read with their child for 10 minutes every day. [14:40]

“Don’t read anything that we haven’t taught them, don’t go ahead in the materials cause we haven’t taught that yet. You’re only going to confuse them. ” — Michael Maloney

  • NIFDI will sometimes do a Summer Institute for teachers to teach them how to deliver Direct Instruction in the classroom [16:12]
  • Parents can go to Maloneymethod.com and on the homepage, there’s a little black bar that says free training, free sample lessons and free tips. If they click on that, they’ll get a manual. This will have Michael walking them through the manual step by step. [16:32]
  • The Maloney Method reading app removes the need for training. They took Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching and buried them inside the tablet by creating an app [17:22]

“We’re all in the criticism trap at some time or another, and basically this is something that most teachers experience on a regular basis.” — Michael Maloney

  • The vicious circle starts in which the child does something inappropriate, someone comments negatively on it. The child complies in the moment but later does it again. The teacher or parent gets rewarded for commenting negatively by the fact that the child appeared to comply in the short term. And that’s a trap that we have to all be very aware of. [21:21]

“It’s a good idea to praise somebody who’s doing it the right way.  Strengthening the good behavior, not strengthening the inappropriate behavior.” — Michael Maloney

  • Parents are not given instructions as to how to raise children so that they are better citizens. [23:53]

“The one thing you need more than anything else is consistency..” — Michael Maloney

  • You get consistency by setting up some simple rules, and you follow the rules and you reinforce the things that are done well, and you refuse or withhold that reinforcement from things that are not done well. [24:26]
  • You can go to Cambridge Center For Behavioral Studies. They have a bookstore and you can find Howard Sloane’s Book there. There are other authors in there with books on managing children’s behavior that are very good. [27:29]
  • Michael’s advice for parents is to be prepared to make a lot of mistakes. [28:24]
  • For the three-year-old who has still not learned a social skill, you need to set him down and teach them that social skill. You may practice taking a toy and giving a toy and sharing a toy and teach them the difference. [30:04]

“Most parents inherently understand what the child needs, but the problem that many parents have is they don’t have a system for implementing, monitoring, and measuring that.” — Michael Maloney

Guest Bio:

Michael Maloney with his colleague, Eric Haughton, amalgamated Behavior Analysis, Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching into a powerful learning system, now known as the Maloney Method. After being hindered from advocating for macro-level change in the public education system, Michael created the first private, for-profit behaviorally-based learning centre and school in North America for children at-risk of school failure in 1979.

Now he creates, publishes, and markets effective methods as a series of educational books, CDs, and software. His aim is to make empirically proven methods commonplace in education. He teaches a distance education course at University of West Florida’s ABA dept – A Model for Education, outlining the features of the behavioral components of the Maloney Method.

“Get consistent, get a plan. Find out what the children are willing to work for or want, set that up as a set of reinforcements for them. Follow through on what you’ve promised, and be consistent.”

— Michael Maloney

Resources from this episode:

Related articles and podcasts:

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Read the Transcript:

Erika Ng

Welcome to Behavioral Health Collective podcast, a community of behavior analysts who are passionate about sharing our science by connecting families to information that promotes meaningful behavior change. We are a community of practitioners who seek to empower parents by sharing effective behavioral strategies and evidence-based practices from the perspective of behavior science. 

Thank you so much for tuning in. I’m Erika Ng, the founder of the Behavioral Health Collective. If you didn’t yet to listen to Michael Maloney’s first interview with me, I’ll highlight a few things to introduce him, ’cause he’s back with us today. Be sure to check that interview out because he has a parent that joins him and that discussion, someone that he’s worked with for a long time, and he discusses his work in remedial literacy instruction and the power of behavior science. He also talks about Precision Teaching, Direct Instruction, and behavior analysis altogether, and how he’s used those tools to combine them and with some incredible result with his clients over the years. 

Over the course of his 45 year career in behavior science, and Michael Maloney has written 30 books and taught over a hundred thousand children to read. He has another 30 books that he says he’d still like to write, and he just came out with a reading instruction app that’s quite effective in teaching kids to read through highly structured lessons and again, it’s based on the science of Precision Teaching, Direct Instruction & behavior analysis. The slogan for his app is if you can read, you can teach your child to read.

Michael has helped thousands of adults also, learn to be proficient readers and go on to be successful in college after having to had to change careers due to workplace accidents.

Currently, he’s working on a literacy project where he’s serving 2,500 children in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh. In which mother is teaching their children to read from their cell phone, but believe it or not actually has better cell service than parts of rural Canada. Well, not only is he a giant in the field of behavior analysis, and literacy instruction in particular, he also provides behavior consultation to families both locally and via Telehealth using behavior science. 

Today, he’s going to talk to us and share some thoughts about initially we speak a little bit more about academics, but then he’ll also speak about something he calls a criticism trap and rapport building with parents, so without further ado let’s get to that interview.

Welcome to the Behavioral Health Collective podcast, a community of behavior analysts who are passionate about sharing evidence-based practices from the perspective of behavior science. We connect families and educators to information that promotes robust behavioral health in the home, community, and classroom.

We are behavioral health practitioners who empower parents and caregivers by sharing behavioral resources that are current and evidence-based. 

At the Behavioral Health Collective, we set families and educators after success by promoting meaningful and lasting behavioral health, and skill development and the children or young people they work with.

Good morning Michael, how are you doing today? 

Michael Maloney

I’m just great, Erika, how are you? 

Erika Ng

Excellent. I’m feeling good. It’s been a little chilly here in Vancouver not as cold as Ontario though so, thank you for joining us this morning again for our second episode. Really appreciate it, it was such a treat to speak with you and with Adrianna on the last episode.

And yeah, I think, I’d like listeners to listen to that one, but maybe to start could you just give a brief overview of some of your behavior science mentors and kind of an overview of your career? I know that’s a lot, cause it’s a 45 year career, but just for people who haven’t listened to that last episode. 

Michael Maloney

It’s fairly consistent. So, that won’t take long. 

My major mentors were the creators of three different technologies. B.F. Skinner for Behavior Analysis, his student, Ogden R. Lindsley as the creator of  Precision Teaching and Zig Engelmann from the University of Oregon for Direct Instruction. And I was fortunate enough to have each of these gentlemen as my mentors for a number of years, and myself and a colleague decided to integrate the three methods into a single system because it had a method for getting children in under control, a method for teaching and a method for measuring the results. 

And that’s powerful. They’re each powerful, but the amalgam is even more so. And we spent four years setting up programs in schools for children with special needs. And that ended and I started my own learning center, which very quickly morphed into a school because the parents kept telling me he can’t just come for two hours a week. That’s not going to be enough. 

You need to start a school. I didn’t really want a school, but they kind of ganged up on us and we started a school. And it was great. 20 children all with special needs, and basically it ran for three years until the computer age came along and we started developing some software, and the software literally ate the school cause we couldn’t do both and we thought we could reach more people with the software. And so we created our first package and then went on to write scholastic’s leading line of mass software in the early eighties. Then they divested themselves with their software company, so we moved into working with injured adult workers and they were illiterate.

They’re the guys that quit school in grade nine, and then fell off the roof or whatever and we would get them ready, college ready for technical programs at the colleges in 12 months or less. And we did that for a number of years, and and since, then I’ve been just coaching and writing and doing what I can. 

Erika Ng

That’s amazing. And that’s such meaningful work. So whether it’s teaching children to read or adults changing their lives, that’s incredible. 

Michael Maloney

Yeah. That’s great fun. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. Wow and such a wide range of things that you’ve done too, with people that you’ve worked with and then from school to technology and yeah, that’s incredible. 

Michael Maloney

Right. 

Erika Ng

So currently you are working with families, what does your, so since closing the learning centers and kind of moving into this newer phase where you’re direct coaching. What does that look like? And you’ve mentioned you work with families, and professionals, or corporations, companies. 

Michael Maloney

At the, at the moment, we’ve probably got about 50 children that we’re working with, and 50 families, but most of it is being done by BCBA’s and other professionals in the field and I’m coaching.

So, if you will, I’m playing quarterback and they’re catching the balls and scoring a touchdown. So, and these kids are all in the, many of them are on the spectrum. Many of them have diagnoses like you know, ADHD or whatever. Most of them are simply NBT’s – Never Been Taught and, so what we’re finding out is that as soon as we start giving them appropriate instruction and management and measurement that they come along very quickly. They’re like 

Erika Ng

Wow. 

Michael Maloney

97, 98% of all other kids, including children like Samuel, Adrianna’s son. So it’s great fun working with these various professionals and how they manage across, I mean, we’re now global. We have people in China of all places.

Erika Ng

Incredible. 

Michael Maloney

Hawaii, it’s getting crazy. 

Erika Ng

So it’s all, by telehealth. You’re doing all of this coaching. 

Michael Maloney

So yeah, most of it. Some of it are they’re able to, there they may be like Adrianna, an actual homeschooling mom. So her kids are right there, but most of them it’s all done by telehealth. Yes. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. Okay. Wow. And so you mentioned some of these kids say with ADHD, and like you said never been taught or are these kids that are also currently in the public system and they just haven’t had a lot of success and then they’re coming to you for supplement? 

Michael Maloney

Yes. 

Erika Ng

Or do you have any kids under your supervision where that BCBA’s there’s like an entire week program for them, instructional program.

Michael Maloney

We do have a couple, a few that are being now withdrawn from schools and, thinking all on being homeschooled. And, those parents are interesting because you know, first of all they’re desperate. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

They’d been through the mill with school district. So with testing, and IEPs, and consulting, and programs that didn’t work. I mean, most people don’t don’t appreciate that 85% of all Special Ed children show no change each year in Special Ed. 

Erika Ng

Wow.  

Michael Maloney

It’s terrifying if your child is labeled as a special ed client client or student, because the likelihood is they’re not going to find a solution to that child’s problem. 

So fortunately, we do have a solution and unfortunately we don’t, our teachers never get to hear about it. So I don’t blame the teachers, if you don’t train them and give them the tools, how do you expect them to do the job? So the parents come to us and we always start with reading. If the child, typically while 80% of our clientele are male, grade three, grade four, nine, 10 years of age, can’t read.

Well, we tell parents straight up. If we run into a reading problem, everything else stops until we teach them to read because there’s no point in doing much else if he can’t read. So that’s. 

Related Read: 10 Best ABA Practice Management Software For Enterprise Practices [2022]

Erika Ng

And do you often have clients that will come to you that have also some behavior concerns at the same time?

Michael Maloney

Oh, sure. 

Erika Ng

Would you say are most of these learners kind of 

Michael Maloney

Behavior problems? 

Erika Ng

Yeah. Like together at the academic and behavior, yeah 

Michael Maloney

Oh yeah, that well the behavior problem typically is just masking an academic deficit. I mean, think about it for a minute. If you were a child, a grade four boys sitting in a classroom, and everybody around you appears to be able to read. And you can’t, you’re not going to sit there and play dead. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

You’re going to do something and that’s something usually is on the teacher’s agenda. So that gets you called out or sent to the office or send to be picked up from or whatever. And these kids will continue to use those behaviors because they don’t really have any functional behaviors to replace them with. And unfortunately, many of our behavioral psychologists and practitioners are into reducing behavior. Well, we shouldn’t be reducing behavior, we should be replacing behavior. Give that child the skills to be able to read or spell or do math or whatever it is that they need, right? But again, we don’t train our BCBA’s of these technologies, they don’t they’re not aware of them.

I did a seminar and only 21% of the BCBA’s had ever been trained in Direct Instruction. Again, that’s why it’s important for us to get this news into the hands of parents so they can go into the school as once as my DI program started. 

Related Read: 10 Best ABA Data Collection Software For Small Practices [2022]

Erika Ng

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And so you’re empowering parents. Do you also do professional development in the school system? Or you’re just coaching the BCBA’s that you work with or have you, 

Michael Maloney

Well, I’m pretty much giving up on school systems and such I do work with some charter schools. I have a wonderful group of charter schools in North Carolina that, a former software guy who made a ton of money in the health industry decided to build the world’s best school. And he is now built four of them in North Carolina, and he has about 2000 kids under his roof, various roofs. And all the staff are trained in behavior analysis and direct instruction, and if you walk into those classrooms, every child in there is working diligently and doing very well. 

So, it can be done but it’s not likely going to get done in, in the public schools because it causes dissension. It causes a lack of peace in the valley because somebody’s doing something differently, which in fact, embarrasses the peers that had this child before that failed with him. So it’s not a very welcome environment. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, a lot of what you’re saying reminds me of Kim Berens’, Dr. Kim Berens’ book, Blind Spots.

Michael Maloney

And your parents will have experienced this in spades in many cases, so they will understand exactly what I’m saying. 

Erika Ng

Yeah, absolutely. 

Michael Maloney

And I don’t have to again, I want to say don’t blame the teachers. If you’re not prepared to do the training that they need to deliver a product that works, then it’s on you not on them. And isn’t certainly not on the child. 

Erika Ng

Yeah, absolutely. So, are there other things that you see in families when they come to you? So academics are concerned, sometimes behavior concerns.

Do you also coach parents with interactions in the home and that like whole behavior, not too much academic behaviors? 

Michael Maloney

I don’t have the time and the essentially the liberty to do that because

Erika Ng

Okay. 

Michael Maloney

We see the child when the center was open and it did close three years ago. The children would come for typically two hours a week.

And they’re two to three years behind in reading and they still can’t write and there’s been there, their spelling is weak and their math isn’t very good and so we would truly dedicate ourselves to the academics, and I did do some work with families, but they were basically the families of foster children.

And you may be aware that 60% of foster children never graduate high school. And we were asked by our local children’s aid society to do some work with a dozen kids that were well behind in reading and that attracted the attention of Ottawa University. And we went on to do four different research studies with a gentlemen and our professors at the University.

And so we had in one case, we train the parents to become the tutors. 

Erika Ng

Great! Wow! 

Michael Maloney

And we would meet with them once a week, telephonically on a Zoom. This was before Zoom or Skype. It was a conference call and figured out what needed to be changed and how to help them, and the kids did very well. All the research studies came out very positively and got published and you know, people presented them at conferences and all that good stuff.

Erika Ng

That’s great. 

Michael Maloney

But in terms of just my regular clientele, we would ask them to please sit down and read with a child for 10 minutes every day. And don’t read anything that we haven’t taught them, don’t go ahead in the materials cause we haven’t taught that yet, and you’re only going to confuse them and don’t do anything except tell them, if they made an error, tell them what the word is and have them read it again. Don’t try figuring it out, because you’ll mess them up, and then you’ll screw up everything we’re doing in the class, in the center with them. 

Basically, half of my clients would do that and the other half would simply write a bigger check, cause I knew that if they didn’t do it, we were going to do it when he came to the center.

Erika Ng

Hmm. Yeah, there you go. Hmm. Just thinking about Direct Instruction, do you have some good resources that parents or behavior analysts

Michael Maloney

I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear that.

Erika Ng

So, thinking about Direct Instruction,

Michael Maloney

Yes

Erika Ng

Do you have good resources that you would direct a behavior analyst or parent to that you can mention? 

Michael Maloney

Oh! Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. The they have an organization, the director of the foundation for direct instruction, and there are about 40 different direct instruction programs. And so they the that’s run by Engelmann’s two son’s now. 

Erika Ng

Okay. 

Michael Maloney

And I’ll make sure you have the 

Erika Ng

Yeah, we can put them in the show notes, for sure. 

Michael Maloney

The contacts, but the problem with direct instruction is that you need the training.

Erika Ng

That’s right. Yeah. And does this foundation provide that? 

Michael Maloney

Well, no, unfortunately not enough. They do a summer Institute each summer and it’s mostly for teachers and a couple of 300 teachers will go.

But in terms of an ability to help these people on a day-to-day basis, no, but on our website, we have a complete training package for direct instruction and it’s free. 

Related Podcast: Understanding Behavior Science In Everyday Life (with Behavior Analyst, Caitlin Ball)

Erika Ng

Oh. Excellent! 

Michael Maloney

So your parents can just go to Maloneymethod.com and on the homepage, there’s a little black bar that says free training, free lessons, free tips, and they click on that and they’ll get a manual and they’ll get me walking them through the manual step by step 

Erika Ng

Excellent! 

Michael Maloney

And all of the sounds that are used. And so it’s pretty helpful. 

Erika Ng

Okay, and would that also be useful for teachers as a tool? 

Michael Maloney

Oh, yeah, one is faced with a child who doesn’t know how to read fluently would benefit from it. 

Erika Ng

Great. So I’ll put a link then in the notes to that, because that would be really helpful I’m sure. 

Michael Maloney

Okay, that would be great. 

Erika Ng

Teachers hearing this I’m sure would want to know more about that so. Thank you.

Michael Maloney

Well, Erika you know about our latest software product?

Erika Ng

The app? The reading app?

Michael Maloney

Yes. 

Erika Ng

Yes. So maybe tell us a little bit more about  the reading app. 

Michael Maloney

Well, just very briefly it removes the need for training. 

Erika Ng

Okay. 

Michael Maloney

We just took Direct Instruction and Precision Teaching and buried them inside the tablet. And now mom just has to sit there and press words whatever is there. Sit there and press one or two buttons either, you got it right. So press the next button, bring down the next part or press back and then go back and review it with a model lead test correction procedures. So the child gets to see what they did wrong, then doing it with the teachers then do it themselves. So that we think that’s going to be a huge help to parents and teachers.

Erika Ng

Yeah. I did actually try it out briefly and it was just, it was so straightforward. You’re right. Absolutely. Anybody could do it, whether it’s an EA working with a student in the school, a parent at home, a caregiver. 

Michael Maloney

That’s the genius again. 

Erika Ng

That’s great! It’s brilliant. 

Michael Maloney

What we’re you looking at is the genius of the best instructional designer we’ve ever had.

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

This I just borrowed all of that from the work he and Doug Carnine and Og Lindsley and Fred Skinner put it together in one place. So it’s I wish I could claim it. I wish I could say it was mine, but it’s not. It belongs to the direction instruction community. And it’s just very powerful stuff because it does what Zig always said. The concept or the operation has to be understandable because it has one and only one interpretation. So you can’t get it wrong. 

Erika Ng

Absolutely. 

Michael Maloney

You have to design curriculum that way. And he’s one of the few who could.

Erika Ng

Yeah, it’s true. And yeah, just using it is absolutely airless. It’s amazing, so well done. This is a great application of all those.

Michael Maloney

Yeah. We’re not over the woods yet. We’re still working at it.

Erika Ng

Looking good so far. 

Now, today you also wanted to touch on what you call the criticism trap, and you’ve worked with so many families over time. 

Michael Maloney

Yes. 

Erika Ng

So could you describe to us a little bit about what you describe as a criticism trap and how that plays out in families?

Michael Maloney

I can do that. Yes. And in fact, we’re all in the criticism trap, at some time or another. And basically this is something that most teachers experience on a regular basis. Most parents experience on a regular basis. The child does something that you would prefer that they not do. And so you turn around and you say, Sally, put that back or Sally, leave that alone, right? 

And typically the child will do what you ask or do what you’re told will you tell them to do. And then if you watch carefully over a period of time, very soon, they’ll be back doing that again. And so the criticism continues and it seems to work because the child mostly complies, right? 

But it actually is a trapped because if you analyze that from a behavioral perspective, what you’re seeing is the child engages in a behavior and it’s an inappropriate behavior in the eyes of the parent or whomever teacher, whatever and so that parent or teacher then comments on it, giving the child attention for an inappropriate behavior and the child can stops momentarily, and then at some point in the future, does it again. Right. So it just, it does, it maintains the behavior because children love attention. Even if it’s not for the right things, but what makes it a trap is the fact that the parent or the teacher is also getting paid off. When the child complies, the teacher is happy because they’ve got what they think of is control. What they don’t realize is the child’s compliance’s rewarding their behavior to be critical.

And so this vicious circle starts in which the child does something inappropriate, someone comments negatively on it. The child complies, does it again, but the teacher or parent gets rewarded by the fact that the child appeared to comply.

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

And that’s a trap that we have to all be very aware of. And the only, I mean, I should teach my teachers. If you see a child doing something inappropriate, turn to the nearest child, to him who is acting appropriately and praise them. Sally, I like the way you’re sitting up. Well, Billy immediately sits up and then I go back to him, say, nice job, Billy. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. Providing that opportunity for Billy too. 

Michael Maloney

You’ve got a, A, you can’t criticize him cause that’s going to throw you into the trap, B it’s good idea to praise somebody who’s doing it the right way, so that Billy can see what that looks like. And then you go back to him, and then or very shortly thereafter and catch him for doing it correctly. Strengthening the good behavior, not strengthening the inappropriate behavior. So it’s very much common sense code, but it’s not that easy to do. 

Erika Ng

Right. In the moment to catch that, you know, whether you’re a parent or you know with your 

Michael Maloney

Yeah. 

Erika Ng

Spouse or partner as a teacher, yeah that’s tricky.

Michael Maloney

Mom has a list of 18 things to do today.

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

The child has a list of one, right? I want X, whatever it is right now. And they can spend all their time and energy getting to X where mom is like, I gotta get this done so I can get on and get this done because I gotta be here at this time to pick up the kids or whatever it is, right? And it’s very easy to get frustrated and say, Billy, sit down and shut up. Right? 

And parents are, I mean, they don’t mean to do it. They’re not being nasty, it’s just that it’s punishment works, unfortunately. 

Erika Ng

So, where do you see this? Like really going wrong? Like, could you give an example of when this has been present in a family or in a teacher-student relationship for a while? What is like the worst-case scenario that you’ve seen? 

Michael Maloney

Oh, Lord. Well, I guess, some of the children who are in foster care would be the worst-case scenarios I’ve seen. I mean, I knew one little girl who had everything she owned in a green plastic bag, ready to move to the next foster home because she didn’t expect to be here very long. And so. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

Parents, they don’t come with a handbook, it’s just like our teachers are not given the tools to deliver clean instruction. Our parents are not given instructions as to how to raise children so that they are better citizens. And it’s not magic I mean, first of all, the one thing you need more than anything else is consistency. And when you look at children who are out of control, you’re probably looking at parents are highly inconsistent with how they handle his behavior. 

And you get consistency by setting up some simple rules, and you follow the rules and you consecrate the things that are done well, and you refuse or withhold that reinforcement from things that are not done well. And if you do that you can go a long way to catching kids being good and rewarding them for the appropriate behaviors and having them happier. Children are not happy when they’re being harped at all the time. 

Erika Ng

Yeah, that’s right. Absolutely. Yeah. And it leads to such a breakdown in rapport and that relationship.

Michael Maloney

That’s how to reestablish it. Get consistent, get a plan. Find out what the children are willing to work for or want, set that up as a set of reinforces for them, you know. Follow through on what you’ve promised, be again, be consistent. And every so often just throw in a doubles day, you know, all the points are went two today. Twice as many, so just you know being re be exceptionally good grandma’s coming. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. And would you say, does this apply, could you describe for families, this is applied to really young kids kind of elementary age, and then also adolescents, or do you have any unique advice for some of those age groups? 

Michael Maloney

Yeah, again age to me is not as much a factor as consequating the behavior. Doesn’t matter whether the child’s three or 13. They’re both very difficult ages, right? 

Erika Ng

Sure, Yeah. 

Michael Maloney

That’s when you absolutely need to be the most consistent, because the three-year-old is just breaking out of his skin, trying to be independent. And he doesn’t really know all the things that they should know and do, they’re not culturally sophisticated and they’re very demanding.

And the 13 year old, the world only exists within about two millimeters of there their skin most of the time. So they’re in the same situation. You need to be on your game with very young children and with early teenagers, right ?

Now, they’re mostly wonderful most of the time. Right? But if you are not consistent with them, they will play that inconsistency against you all day long.

Erika Ng

Right. Yeah 

Michael Maloney

And so it’s the only safe way that you can make sure your children understand what the rules are, and are willing to obey them, and know full well that there will be consequences. Some of them will be good, some of them maybe not what you were expecting or hoping for, depending on what you did.

Erika Ng

Yeah, consistency. That’s great. So do you have any resources to suggest to families that might be helpful in terms of this relationship piece and some of these basics of that? 

Michael Maloney

There’s one book that I recommend to every parent. It’s a book by Howard Sloane, and I think it’s called The16 Most Common Problems With Children.

Now they can go to behavior.org, which is the Cambridge Center For Behavioral Studies, and they have a bookstore and Howard Sloane’s Book. And there’s another couple of authors in there with books on managing children’s behavior that are very good. I mean, these are guys that have been doing it for 20, 30, 40 years and they are the class of the field.

And they’ve got very straightforward, simple writing styles. So any parent can sit down and figure this out. And so I would recommend the Cambridge Center For Behavioral Studies, a bookstore, and just go through and find a find Howard Sloane’s Book for sure. 

Erika Ng

Okay, that’s helpful. I’ll make sure to put that in the notes. Do you have any advice for parents right now, or 

Michael Maloney

I’m sorry. 

Erika Ng

Do you have any advice for parents? Like what is the number one thing that you would want to impart to them? 

Michael Maloney

Be prepared to make a lot of mistakes. I’m a step-parent, right? I,we Lynn, and I have two children. They’re now both grown, but you’re gonna make mistakes, you know. Don’t let it be fatal. Be prepared to apologize when you mess it up but again I think the most consistent thing I see with both good parents and parents who have a lot to learn is the way in which they are consistent with what they ask of their children. 

Erika Ng

Hmm. Consistency. 

Michael Maloney

And they, the children know and the parents know, and there’s very little wiggle room. That does mean there’s not a lot of freedom because you can let kids run pretty loose as long as you’re being appropriate. But the first time somebody hits another child or take somebody else’s toy when they were playing with it, now that’s beyond the game, that’s beyond the rules and they need to be called on that. And there’s appropriate strategies for dealing with that. Now with three-year-olds that’s still something they’re still learning. Everything is still theirs, right? With six year olds, that’s a different game. They’ve been socialized better now, and they know that they shouldn’t be doing that. So, an apology and a replacement giving it back and all of that would be appropriate. 

Erika Ng

The replacement, right? 

Michael Maloney

But yelling at the child would not be. Yeah. 

Erika Ng

So I guess just to wrap up, maybe could you elaborate on those two examples? I think that’d be so helpful for parents. So what might be and without, you know, this is kind of a general example, but for the three-year-old who hits versus a six-year-old. You mentioned the six-year-old maybe that replacement of giving something giving it back to that child. What might you do for the three-year-old?

Michael Maloney

Well,  for the three-year-old who has still has not learned that social skill, you need to set him down and teach them that social skill. You may practice taking a toy and giving a toy and sharing a toy and teach them the difference between this child was playing with that. You just don’t go over and grab it and take it for your own. No, you go over and you ask politely can we play together with this? Or are you finished with this or whatever? 

And those are simple skills that children can learn. And a lot of preschool teachers do a pretty good job of teaching that, right? But the older child I often make contracts. To 13 year old, there are certain things I would like them to do. I’d like them to make their bed in the morning. I’d like them to pick up their clothes and their towels and their bathing suits and all of the things that they dropped harum-scarum all around the house. I’d like them to come when I call if and when I call them. I don’t want to be out looking around the neighborhood, trying to find them.

Right. And I would like them to let me know if they’re not going to be available because they are, you know, we’ve agreed that they’re going to do something elsewhere I’m not going to be a part of it. So again, most parents inherently understand what the child needs, but the problem that many parents have is they don’t have a system for implementing that, monitoring that, and measuring that.

And we need to be able to help teach them those skills, so, you know just.

Erika Ng

I think you said something really key in there, especially with the three-year-old, but also the 13-year-old of the practice and the teaching. 

Michael Maloney

Yeah.  

Erika Ng

And so it’s not about scolding them or the criticism trap but to show and demonstrate and model and have them rehearse that themselves again. 

So, it’s not, they made a mistake you didn’t know. So

Michael Maloney

Very important most of us don’t think to do that. 

Erika Ng

Yeah. Yeah. And with the 13-year-old, when you’re saying contract, it’s just knowing kind of what the expectations are ahead of time and being clear with that, so it’s not a surprise that, Oh, I didn’t know. And then you’re getting the size. So. 

Michael Maloney

Yeah, in our classroom we had five different rules. And we literally taught those rules to the children and made them repeat them back to us until any child could do any rule in any order verbatim, right? Work quickly and quietly, and all the rules were binary work quickly and quietly. While you can’t be disturbing your next door neighbor and working quickly and quietly. Bring all of your materials to class. While if the dog ate your homework, then you don’t have all your material. Keep your hands in your feet to yourself. Right, because that gets rid of a whole lot of this kind of teenage behavior of clowning around. 

Erika Ng

Right. 

Michael Maloney

Raise your hand to address the group. If we’re in a group situation, we don’t blurred out, then you wait and you raise your hand. You’ll be recognized, you’ll get your time. And the last one was say only good things and that’s a really important one, because most of the problems we have in schools start with a verbal comment, usually some criticism or some kind of scorn, and it escalates from there into something worse. So we just kind of cut these all off right upfront, you know, working quickly and quietly that’s easy to see. Yeah. 

Yeah, you got them or you don’t, it’s a clear discrimination between what is being, what is happening here that’s appropriate and what is not. And we would teach the children if you’re not working correctly and quietly, you’re going to do it on my time. Instead of you going for recess, we’ll stay and finish what you were supposed to have got done.

Because, you know, I want to make sure that these kids are in fact getting to become competent students and you can’t just let them away and let them slide away with not finishing up their work. So we would simply say the choice is your turn or my time, my time or your time and they, after a while, but very quickly learn I’d rather go to recess.

Okay, well fine. Then work quick and quietly. And if I can see that the child is struggling with something, I’ll send them for recess because it’s not easy doing the best he can. 

Erika Ng

Right. 

Michael Maloney

He did that know enough yet he hasn’t had enough practice, so. Yeah. And you can do that a lot of social behaviors as well as you know. 

Erika Ng

There was some helpful nuggets, then some little seeds of wisdom you’ve called yourself, Johnny Appleseed the first time we spoke and I think you definitely got a lot of seeds in this in this conversation. So, thank you so much, Michael. 

Michael Maloney

You’re most welcome and thank you, Erika. Have a great day. 

Erika Ng

Thank you as well.

The comments and views expressed in this podcast do not constitute or replace contractual behavior analytic consultation, or professional advice. Views expressed are solely the perspective of the speaker and do not represent the views or position of their colleagues, employer, or other associates. 

Please seek out a behavior analyst through BACB website, if you would like to receive further behavior consultation. Until next time. Take care. 

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