I have been thinking about my earliest behaviourist experience, before I knew what Behaviourism and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) was. When I finished high school I knew I wanted to work in education and/or childcare, so I went to college to study it. During the course there were placements in which I had to work to gain experience.
One day I was working in a primary school. There was two boys in the class that acted like brothers, always together but always bickering and arguing! It was very disruptive and the teacher would usually be reprimanding them, moving them away from each other and closer to her chair. One day I had a small pot of Vaseline lip balm. One of the boys spotted the pot and they both began to ask for some. I told them that if they sat nicely on the carpet then they could have some. A true transformation; they sat quietly, legs crossed, index fingers pressed to their lips, backs stretched with perfect posture and for the most part they were oriented towards the teacher. When the carpet time finished I gave them some Vaseline from my pot.
I found it so fascinating and, quite funny, how this incredible change of behaviour had occurred from a dab of Vaseline. I pondered the fact that stickers, certificates and praise or adult acknowledgement did not motivate them at all!! I knew rewards were important but would have never considered Vaseline! I’ll never forget the important lesson I learnt that day (which now makes so much more sense now I’m a Behaviour Analyst). Reinforcement is crucial for behaviour change and we should always try new things to discover powerful reinforcements for the children and adults we work with.