Parents are always looking for a way to not only teach their children how to do their chores, but also self-discipline to continue doing those chores, such as, making the bed. To teach you six year old son how to make his bed is one thing, to teach him to maintain that bed-making behavior is quite another. Presented with the following methods: operant conditioning, classical conditioning, observational learning, punishment, shaping, negative reinforcement, variable ratio reinforcement, and fixed ratio reinforcement, I will analyze each to conclude whether or not they would be effective in teaching a child to make his / her bed and maintain the behavior. Operant conditioning, with the use of positive reinforcements (better known as a reward system), are factors that are likely to strengthen the probability that the operant behavior (in this case, bed-making) will occur again. On the other hand, providing a punishment or some sort of penalty when he doesn't make his / her bed will, in the long run, only weaken the behavior and never really erase the undesirable act (not making his bed).
It is proven that punishment only suppresses the undesirable outcome instead of alleviating it. Shaping is also a good technique. It is accomplished by reinforcing "successive approximations," for example, say one day you just tell him to pull the covers smooth and then follow his correct action with a reward, then the next day you ask him to go a step further and arrange the pillows in order to get a reward. Since this method is best for only teaching complex behaviors, shaping will definitely teach the child how to make his bed, but it won't teach him to do it on a daily basis. The use of classical conditioning, in this particular situation, would generally not be favored by the parent (s). Classical conditioning is when first an unconditioned stimulus (in this case it would be the parents verbally telling their kid to make his / her bed) is used to get the outcome they want (a made bed), also known as the unconditioned response.
Then the unconditioned stimulus is paired up with a neutral stimulus, something that wouldn't normally be associated with the situation (such as a bell). Soon, because of this continuous pairing, the child begins to associate the neutral stimulus with making his bed. The neutral stimulus is then called the conditioned stimulus and the response to this "conditioned stimulus" is called the conditioned response (formally called the unconditioned response, they are exactly the same). Even though this method would probably be successful in teaching the child to make his bed, most parents would find that ringing a bell (or any other sort of NS/CS) every time they wanted their child to make their bed would be an action most suitable for animals, not human beings. Observational learning is also another technique that would probably be successful in teaching the actual task of making the bed, but would not provide the motivating factors needed to encourage continuous bed-making the way positive reinforcements do in operant conditioning. It is a similar scenario with fixed ratio reinforcement.
The child will learn to make his bed but only because he expects a to be rewarded afterwards every time. Soon the parent will get tired of rewarding their child everyday and stop, and rapidly, so will the child's bed-making. With variable ratio reinforcement, though, the child will not expect a reward after every time he / she makes his / her bed. The parent may say that on average every four times he / she will give a reward, the child may make his / her bed five or even six times without being asked to do so because they do not expect a reward every time. In conclusion, I believe that the absolute best way to teach your son / daughter is to not just use only one of the techniques listed her, but to use a combination of them to teach and achieve a long lasting habit. I believe that shaping combined with variable ratio reinforcement would be the best way to not only to ensure that the task is taught, but also that the child continues to engage in his / her bed-making behavior.
Of course every child is uniquely different so some of them will respond better to certain learning techniques than others. So, as parents, pick the one you think is the best for your child and start teaching!