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When parents are having difficulties putting their child(ren) to sleep at night they can turn to behaviorism to help change their child’s behavior through conditioning. Classical conditioning was first discovered by Ivan Pavlov when he conducted his experiment with a dog, a bell, and salvation (Goldstein, 2019). In his experiment, he noticed that the dog started off drooling when he saw food. Pavlov wanted to see if he could change this by associating the bell before the food was present (Goldstein, 2019). The bell would then be used to tell the dog that it was time to eat. After so many times of doing this, the dog learned that the bell meant it was time to eat and changed from only slobbering at the meat to salivating at the sound of the bell (Goldstein, 2019). This provided evidence that attitudes were able to change by associating different items to one another and changing the response to that stimulus.

Operant conditioning was discovered by B.F. Skinner and Edward Thorndike which involves positive rewards as a way to continue desired behaviors and punishments as a way to stop undesired behaviors (Baumeister & Bushman, 2017). Baumeister and Bushman give the example of randomly assigning an “A” or “D” on a paper in a class. The students who received an A on the paper showed more enthusiasm for the subject whereas students who received a “D” showed less enthusiasm for the topic.

Darling discusses how bedtime routines are essential for kids that keep prolonging their sleep. Bedtime routines are essential as the brain will associate these activities such as brushing teeth, changing into pajamas, picking out a book, and/or watching a movie with the activity that’s to follow. Much like how Pavlov associated the bell to dinner, carrying out this routine before bedtime every night will ensure the child that it’s time to relax and go to sleep (Darling, 2018). Darling (2018) suggests that associating these tasks to unruly kids during the bedtime routine is going to make it harder for them to calm down quicker. Instead, she suggests that these actions are performed during some other time in a positive environment. She gives the example of watching a relaxing movie or listening to an audio tape of a book during an afternoon cuddle session. Right before the movie, audiotape, or other selection of association preferred, turning on something that has a smell such as an aromatherapy light, a Scentsy, or a candle can also help form an association to the smell with a calming activity and be used for putting the child to sleep.

Combining all of these methods and philosophies to create a bedtime routine and minimizing the fuss as much as possible would look like this: buying a sound machine that has the option for the sound of waves and putting it on in the background while reading a bedtime story to them in the middle of the day, while also putting the smell of lavender in the background and turning off all these items when this is completed. By only having these items combined and working during the calming moments of story time, the association between these items can tell the brain that it’s time to relax next time all of these are combined again. Positive reinforcement is going to be introduced during bedtime. The Premack principle is a positive reinforcer that too creates an incentive for the child to perform wanted behaviors instead of unwanted behaviors by using a first do the desired behavior then get a reinforcer approach to the situation (Bsci21, 2018). Another reinforcement system is called the token economy (Bsci21, 2018). This system tackles 1-3 actions by replacing them with other more acceptable ones by telling them what they can and should do at bedtime instead of acting on their poor behavior (Bsci21, 2018). Once they successfully complete a task they get a token, marble, or point in which they add to their collection. Once their collection has reached their goal, they get an even bigger reinforcer (Bsci21, 2018). When all of these elements are added together to create a nurturing, calming, rewarding, and positive bedtime experience the child is likely to learn and associate bedtime with good feelings making it easier to go to bed with less and less of a fuss as long as the parents are consistent.


Goldstein (2019), explains that classical conditioning consists of pairing reinforcers with stimuli to create a behavioral response and such as the Pavlov experiment. Pavlov paired the sound of a ringing bell to meal time for a dog. After time the dog would begin to produce saliva at the sound of the bell instead of at the sight of food as at the beginning. Watson though in what some would call inhumane, further proved this method when he and Rosalie Rayner experimented on a 9-month-old infant boy named Albert. They used a rat that the child was fond of and introduced a loud noise once the rat entered the room with the infant. Where Albert once liked the rat the negative reinforcement of the loud noise created a new behavior of crawling away in fear.

Operant conditioning, as explained by Goldstein (2019), is the strengthening of desired behaviors with use of positive reinforcement. For example, receiving a certificate for reading a desired number of books would be operant conditioning. In applying these methods to the above scenario, I will present examples of how I am currently using these theories to help my 5-year-old daughter get into her bedtime routine. She just turned five in December and suddenly threw every excuse as to why she could not go to bed. She even tried to interfere with her schedule by delaying bath time due to slow eating and claiming she needed to brush her teeth for three timers instead of the recommended one.

Originally, we used more of the classical conditioning approach pairing a negative reinforcer with her delayed behaviors. Where normally she was in her room by 8, we allowed her to have a snack and watch a movie until 9-9:30. When she would be late getting her bath, we removed her desired reinforcement of watching a movie and her snack was ate at the kitchen table. In turn she would say she feared her room or ask for a drink many times. This is when operant conditioning picked up. The desired behavior of being in her room by 8 and minimizing delaying behaviors became more frequent as the desired or positive reinforcer of watching her movie and having snack in her room was the reward. In consideration of fear of the dark we have aloud her to keep her small Christmas tree up to use as a night light if she agreed to sleep in her bed. It has worked to this point. In using these scheduled reinforcers consistently her behaviors have changed in desired ways. She has paired the behavior of delay of nighttime routine to a negative reinforcer of no movie and in turn the delaying behaviors have dropped.


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