It can be really difficult when something you want is denied. With the children I work with, this can be a significant barrier for them on a daily basis. Often they can ask for things that are no available at that time or that are hard to obtain. For example, it might be a request for Disneyland (which cannot be delivered immediately), or a request for McDonalds, which may not be ideal for dinner if you had already had it for lunch. I typically have two general strategies I embed in to my work with requests that I cannot honour, so I wanted to look into the research and see what is empirically supported. The research suggests there are two main strategies, which are in line with the strategies I have been using. These both involve offering an alternative and which you use may depend on the availability of the reinforcer/activity being requested.
Strategy 1: First …. then we can ….
The first strategy is technically a yes, but a delay. This can be used to get a less preferred activity completed, for instance homework or chores. This incorporates the Premack Principle, (aka Grandma’s rule). The highly motivating activity then becomes a reinforcer for the completion of the less preferred activity.
Strategy 2: No, but we can…
This strategy is a no, but offers alternatives. I use this regularly and I also list or give as many options of alternative activities that are appropriate for my learner. Typically you may want to offer between 2 or 3 alternatives which should be really highly motivating or reinforcing activities. For instance, “we can’t play on the iPad right now, but we can ride the scooter or blow bubbles”
The research has shown that these strategies can be effective at reducing challenging behaviour that typically follows hearing “no” or being denied access to preferred reinforcers (Prichard et al, 2011. Mace et al, 2011). Research has also shown training staff to use these strategies to ensure they are used consistently and with high integrity, to support reductions in challenging behaviours (Prichard et al, 2017).
Mace, F. C., Pratt, J. L., Prager, K. L., & Prichard, D. (2011). An evaluation of three methods of saying “no” to avoid an escalating response class hierarchy. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44(1), 83-94.
Prichard, D., Hoerger, M., Ikin, A., Kochy, J., Penney, H., Thomas, K., & Mace, F. C. (2011). An Evaluation of three methods of denying access to computers to a person with learning disabilities. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 12(2), 395-402.
Prichard, D., Hoerger, M., Penney, H., Eiri, L., Hellawell, L., Fothergill, S., & Mace, F. C. (2017). Training staff to avoid problem behavior related to restricting access to preferred activities. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 10, 92-95.