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Using Behavioral Momentum to Increase Motivation

May 2, 2014

By Dr. Debra Leach, EdD,BCBA

Do you find that your child shuts down as soon as you make a request that is somewhat challenging or difficult? Does your child lack motivation to interact with you and respond to you? If so, learning how to use the behavioral momentum strategy may help increase your child’s motivation to respond and interact.

Behavioral momentum is a behavioral strategy that entails making requests that are easy for the child before making requests that are more challenging or difficult. By following a pattern of easy-easy-hard-easy-easy-hard, you increase your child’s motivation to engage because you are building in many opportunities for success. It is important to put yourself in your child’s shoes to understand why using behavioral momentum is important. If you were continually asked to do thing that were difficult for you, would you be highly motivated? Probably not.

Most of us choose careers that we have the skill set needed to be successful, not careers that require us to continually face challenges due to skill deficits. If your child has deficits in communication, social interaction, academics, motor skills, and/or behavior, your child will need appropriate supports to maintain and increase motivation to learn. Thus, providing questions, comments, directions, and tasks that are easy for your child before presenting more difficult ones can be a huge support.

You can use behavioral momentum when teaching just about anything. For example, if you want to teach your child to comply with multiple step directions, you would first give two easy directions for your child to follow then a direction that requires multiple steps. Having the “momentum” of success prior to the more difficult direction will increase the likelihood that your child will put forth the extra effort needed to attempt the more challenging task.

Another example of using behavioral momentum for teaching two-digit addition would be to first present two single digit addition facts that are easy for your child before presenting a two-digit addition problem and continue that pattern of presentation.

You will find that when you use behavioral momentum, many of the tasks or requests that were once difficult for your child end up going into the “easy batch.” This allows you to continually increase the difficulty level of your requests. For example, if you are teaching your child to respond to comments by first asking two questions that your child can answer easily and your child soon learns how to respond to comments as easily as the questions, responding to comments becomes a skill that is easy for the child. You can then build on that skill by focusing on teaching your child to respond to complex questions.

Use behavioral momentum by first asking a simple question, then making a comment, then asking a complex question and follow that pattern until it is easy for your child to answer a complex question.

For further assistance in implementing behavioral momentum procedures, parents and teachers can consult with a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA). BCBA’s can provide hands-on training and support to help parents and teachers learn how to use behavioral momentum procedures effectively as well as a variety of other effective teaching strategies.

Father playing with his little girl at home Father playing with his little girl at home