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From Screaming to Violin

To be totally honest, there are times that your child does something that gets on your last nerve. For me, it was watching “screaming” videos. What does that mean, you ask? Well, my son used to search YouTube for videos of people screaming. This could be adults, children, or cartoon characters – the screamers were always different. What was not different was the fact that they were screaming in this high pitch that, to my ears, felt like someone scratching their nails on a chalkboard. As a person with background in behavior analysis, my first thought was “We need to put this behavior on extinction!” However, understanding the ethics of behavior analysis, changing the child’s behavior should not be about anyone else, but the child. In this case, it was all about me. I could not stand hearing it! But, he got a kick out of it and even would have the videos playing in the background while he did other things on the computer. Still, what is the benefit of listening to screaming??!!

I had to do what has always served me well. I had to look at it from HIS perspective. What was he getting from this? He wasn’t watching the videos, so it wasn’t the visual stimulation. It didn’t matter who the “screamer” was, so it was not driven by a certain type of person or character. What was he focusing on? I’m sure you’ve guess it by now – the sound itself. It was something about the actual sound of the screaming that had a reinforcing effect on him. Okay, now let’s think about a FERB – a functionally equivalent replacement behavior. It should be something that serves the same function for him, but could be replaced with a more socially appropriate activity or behavior. So what makes the same kind of high pitched sound? Stringed instruments maybe? I tested this theory by playing a stringed quartet in the background while he did his school work. He immediately froze and stayed still for a few seconds. Then went back to work. Once the song was over he said, “Again.” Ok! I think we may be on to something. I continued to play other music of stringed instruments (mostly violin). Eventually, he developed his own playlist of favorites. This all lead to renting a violin and seeing how he would respond. He was a natural! He took to it right away and began taking lessons. He now loves playing and seems to find the same joy in hearing violin music as he does in hearing “screaming!”

What is the lesson of it all? Listen and observe what your child does. Try to overlook how it makes you feel and try to tune in to how it feels to them. You might find that this opens a window to understanding your child and their motivations. Take your time. Notice the moments. Learning awaits!


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