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Behavioral Momentum

It is not uncommon for children to engage in problem behaviors in order to avoid difficult demands that are placed on them. While it is important to teach functional ways to communicate the desire to avoid a demand or activity, some demands are unavoidable and in some cases, critical to the child’s skill development. Fortunately, behavioral momentum can be a very effective strategy to reduce the desire to avoid a demand in the first place.

To use behavioral momentum, start off by presenting a series of low-demand, easy-to-follow requests with which your child has a history of success. Once your child has complied with a few easy requests, immediately present the difficult request. Then, if the learner complies or allows you to assist him or her in completing the task, be sure to provide a powerful reinforcer to strengthen the behavior.

For example, if your child is resistant to putting on shoes, the behavioral momentum procedure may look something like this:
Teacher: “Give me five!”
Student: Slaps teacher’s outstretched hand
Teacher: “Great job! Now, what are these called?” (While holding up shoes)
Student: “Shoes”
Teacher: “Wow! Way to go! Okay, let’s sit down.”
Student: Sits down with teacher
Teacher: “Thanks for listening! Now, let’s put on your shoes.”
Student: Puts on shoes with assistance
Teacher: “Awesome job!” Provides student with access to powerful reinforcer

There is a greater chance that the child will comply with the target request, putting on shoes, because the easy requests have built up the child’s “momentum” and have reduced the value of avoiding or escaping demands in the first place.

When using behavioral momentum at home, there are few things to remember:
• Select easy requests that already exist in the student’s repertoire, occur with regularity of compliance, and take a very short time to complete.
• Present the requests quickly. The series of easy requests should be presented in rapid succession and the difficult request should immediately follow praise for complying with the easy requests.
• Praise compliance for each task before presenting the next request.
• Use a strong reinforcer for complying with the difficult request. Social praise alone will likely not be enough to strengthen the behavior; use a highly preferred item or activity.
• The more easy requests in the sequence, the greater the chance that the student will comply with the difficult request.
Below are two videos demonstrating the effective use of behavioral momentum: