TAGteach How-to: Should I use the tagger when my child does something bad? Answer: NO! NEVER!

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autism help, tagteach, applied behavior analysis, ABA

Sometimes people ask me this question. They have heard that the purpose of the TAGteach tagger is to teach skills by “marking” a desired behavior and following-up immediately with positive reinforcement. So, they may think, what about using the tagger to tell my child when he is doing something bad? Should I do that? The answer is NO, NEVER! Here are the reasons.


Purpose of TAGteach: Deliver positive reinforcement and increase desired behaviors

We use the TAGteach tagger to give a child two pieces of information:  (1) You just did something right, and (2) now you are getting a treat (reinforcer). The purpose of this two-step action (tag and treat) is to increase a behavior that we like! Decades of behavioral science research tells us that the best way to increase desired behaviors is to provide a positive consequence immediately after the behavior.

Using the tagger to mark an undesired behavior would be catastrophic. What if you ended up increasing the undesired behavior? That would make things worse. Also, if you mix up positive reinforcement and punishment with the tagger, it will destroy its effectiveness in increasing desired behaviors. Consequently, this great tool would be rendered useless. Please do NOT use the tagger to mark undesired behaviors.

autism, help, tagteach, aba, positive reinforcement, applied behavior analysis

To decrease undesired behaviors, set up a specific program to increase desired behaviors

Many children have undesired behaviors. The most effective way to reduce these is to provide high levels of positive reinforcement for the behaviors you want. Children want to please and learn, even our kids with autism. They would much rather be happy and have their caregivers be happy than have everyone be angry. Show them which actions will earn them success, praise, and positive reinforcement and they will do more of those great things. This will take some time, but a thoughtful TAGteach approach can help build new skills and new behaviors relatively quickly.


Punishment is ineffective

All the behavioral science literature explains that punishment is an ineffective way to reduce unwanted behaviors. It may appear to be successful in the short term, and it has the perverse effect of creating positive reinforcement for the person doling out the punishment (I swatted that kid and he stopped throwing blocks, next time he throws something I’ll swat him harder), but it has bad long-term effects on the child including: the escalation of punishers (hit harder), evasion, fear, anger, resentment, failure to learn the desired behavior, and worst of all, a loss of trust.

What is TAGteach?

TAGteach stands for Teaching with Acoustical Guidance. TAGteach is a teaching and communication method based on the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

TAGteach enables extremely precise positive reinforcement of behavior by using an acoustical signal to “mark” the behavior – at the precise moment the child performs the behavior! The acoustical signal is a short, sharp sound made by a handheld device (the “tagger”). When the child performs the correct action, the parent/instructor immediately presses the button on the tagger and hands over a treat (candy, treat, token, praise, social recognition, or money) as a reinforcer.

With TAGteach, it is easy to reinforce behaviors precisely and quickly. The immediate, accurate feedback and positive reinforcement result in the child performing the correct action more often, and for longer periods of time. With immediate feedback and learning tasks broken down into small steps, children can learn many new skills with TAGteach — at their own pace.

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TAGteach taggers are available here.

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Martha Gabler

Autism parent. Director, Kids' Learning Workshop LLC. Author of Chaos to Calm: Discovering Solutions to the Everyday Problems of Living with Autism.

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