2 min read: There is a concept in behavioural science called stimulus control which refers to the likelihood that behaviour follows antecedents (or prompts). In non-scientific terms stimulus control can refer to the likelihood that when you say something to someone (for example your child) that he/she complies. The likelihood of the person behaving and doing what you requested is linked to the potential result. If there is a clear link between your antecedents and consequences then you develop good stimulus control. The more consistent you are with consequences the better your stimulus control over behaviour.
Here are some examples that may sound familiar of ways to weaken stimulus control:
You ask your kid to do your homework or else ...but then allow them to stay watching TV
You scream and shout I won’t ask you again...and then ask them again
They stay watching TV instead of doing homework and there is some renegotiation about the rules
Tomorrow the kid watches TV again and nothing happens
Instead to strengthen stimulus control you might follow through and when your kid watches TV instead of doing homework they lose access to TV. Tomorrow when they do their homework and regain TV access, you’ve gained stimulus control. You might also look at ways to positively reinforce the behaviour of completing homework, by participating or showing an interest.
It starts to become really easy to pick out the people who are and those who are not consistent with their consequences. How? By observing how people react to their requests. Each time you’re not consistent with your consequences you lose stimulus control in the future, keep doing it and eventually you’ll have no stimulus control. This means you can forget about asking for much. An interesting byproduct of stimulus control is that the recipient will respect you for it as well. So pay attention to whether you do what you say you will do and your kids just might thank you for it later.