Catch Them Doing Good

Submitted by: Laura Holley (VPK Teacher)

In light of current events of child abuse, it is important to focus on positive reinforced behaviors of children in the education system and in our households.  Positively reinforced behaviors are more likely to reoccur than ones that are not.  For instance, if a child is asked to clean up toys and they follow directions immediately, one example of positive reinforcement could be giving verbal praise or parental attention can be a strong reward.  If the child does not follow the directions or takes longer than requested to clean up, it is important that we do not scold the child or speak negatively, but rather try to redirect in a positive manner for the child to do as asked.

We as educators and parents tend to seek the simpler reward system of stickers or treats, but the positive verbal reward is potentially much more effective.  A child is not going to be taught how to treat others the way they should be treated by treats and stickers, but more by molding this desirable behavior through positive reinforcement.

For example, consider how trainers at SeaWorld modify killer whale behaviors.  The desired behavior is jumping over a bar.  In the wild, killer whales never jump over a bar. So waiting until they do, to reward them would take a very long time.  The chances of a trainer being present when they miraculously jumped over the bar would be slim.  So how do you do it?  Do you punish them when they don’t?  Do you reward them when they do? No, but rather you reward them immediately with something of value (a fish) when they perform a behavior that is somewhat desirable such as swimming over a bar on the bottom of the pool.  Next, raise the bar six feet above the bottom and reward them similarly for swimming above the bar and not bellow.  When this behavior is learned the bar is moved to the surface of the pool and again reward for going over it only.  Note that at no time do they punish the whale for swimming beneath the bar, but have rewarded positively the desired behavior.  Finally, the bar is placed at the surface of the pool, by now the whale can easily be trained to jump above it for the reward of the fish.

So it is with our children, reward them positively with what they desire most.  Usually, this will be your attention and love rather than sweets and treats.  Note again, that rather than punishing undesirable behavior we are rewarding nearly good behavior and molding our children to even better behavior.  It has been shown that consistency is important. If you successfully reward the desired behavior nine out of ten times and miss the tenth time (i.e. ignore it), then you partially extinguish the good you have done.  So like the whale trainers, love your kids, mold them to be better behaved and refrain from punishment when possible.


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