Dr. Jacob Boney, owner and clinical director of Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services, offers his professional behavioral perspective on Sassy Spray, a product advertised as “the modern version of soap in the mouth”.
There are a number of reasons that Dr. Boney would not recommend Sassy Spray. This type of technique is a type one punishment, which means that it is the application of an aversive event after an unwanted behavior. It is a positive punishment because you’re presenting a stimulus that you hope will decrease the future frequency of this particular behavior. For this type of technique to be effective, it must be:
- able to be applied consistently in multiple environments
Addressing the need to be applied consistently in multiple environments first, this would prove very difficult. Imagine spraying something in your child’s mouth while sitting in a movie theater or eating in a restaurant. Weird looks would probably be the least reaction that you could expect!
No matter where you are, at home or in that restaurant, the need to be quick means that to effectively consequence a behavior with punishment or reinforcement, the punishment must literally come immediately, within .5 to 2 seconds following the behavior. So, unless you have the spray can in your hands at all times, the probability of using it quickly enough for it to have an impact, is pretty small. The more time that elapses between the behavior and the consequence, the less power the punishment has to effect change.
Another reason that it would be difficult for this product to be consistently successful in multiple environments has to do with generalizability and getting other people to do it for us. For example, let’s assume there’s a behavior, like using inappropriate language, that occurs in a setting like at school. Based on his experience, Dr. Boney has found that a lot of staff members in schools or similar places do not like to do punishment based interventions. It can feel very uncomfortable using aversive strategies with a child, especially when that child is not yours. This results in a high likelihood that this procedure would not be done consistently by others in multiple types of environments.
So, it would be hard to do quickly. It would be hard to get multiple people to do it. And, it would be hard to generalize to multiple types of environments.
In addition, this product does not emphasize a replacement behavior. There was a reason that your child misbehaved in the first place, and it is important for the child to learn the correct behavior for getting whatever it was that they wanted. This is a key time to have them practice the appropriate behavior. An example of a good consequence would be to remove a preferred item or privilege after the child uses naughty language and say that it will be returned if only nice words are used for a specified length of time. Immediately implementing an aversive stimulus does not provide an opportunity for the child to practice the correct behavior.
Probably the most important drawback to using this type of technique is that it switches the focus from looking for behavior to reinforce to constantly trying to catch your child doing something wrong. Using fear, intimidation or aversive strategy to try and get the behavior that you want is not effective. You get the behavior that you consistently reinforce. So, if you look for those good behaviors you are going to be a lot more likely to find them.
Utilizing evidence based practices and the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services team provides assessment, treatment and consultation for a wide range of behavioral issues. We work with a variety of children, families, schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and local community organizations to provide these services. If you have any questions about this product or would like more information about any of the services offered by our team, please feel free to contact us by phone at 480.410.4040, email us at [email protected], or click here for our convenient online form.