In the mid 90’s, during my undergrad days of studying Psychology at “Memphis State,” I became hooked on the idea of positive reinforcement. This is the idea that rewarding positive behaviors will shape behavior. Wait, we can shape another person’s behavior? Isn’t that like hypnotism? How cool is that?! I want some of that. So I took notes, I observed interactions between students and teachers, kids and parents, and I became addicted to how to get others to behave a certain way. Words have power. Words communicate expectations. How exciting that idea was to me.
So, positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that can shape behavior in children, other adults, and in ourselves. It’s a little more complicated than merely using positive words, but thinking positively, praising others often, and going out of your way to be nice can drastically change your life for the better. For one thing, you’ll have more friends because nobody wants to hang around a Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer.
The key to effectively shaping the behavior of others is to accept the idea that all humans are innately good or that they at least want to be. It means conveying the idea that your expectations of them are to be a rock star and that you truly believe in them.
Wow, talk about seeing the glass half full, Anne. You are amazing.
Now consider this, when a child is misbehaving, the natural instinct would be to get upset with the child and want to punish them. But perhaps a more effective method of shaping the child’s behavior would be to look for the root of the problem and find ways to help that child. There’s a reason why he/she acts this way. Find that reason and take it away. Maybe they get attention by acting up. Take that away. Ignore fits and tantrums. But you have to replace it with something. So look for that one second when they do something right, and give them an enormous amount of attention for that. “Look at you putting away your toy! You are so kind for picking up after yourself.” Positive reinforcement is a SLOOOOOW process sometimes and it’s tempting to use negative reinforcement because of it’s immediate results, but if you want to shape behavior for the long term, it’s worth the extra time and effort.
What it looks like for you as an individual:
Catching negative thoughts in their tracks and making an effort to change them. I’m not a morning person, so I have to do this EVERY morning when I wake up. A mental pep talk if you will… “You got this, it’s going to be a great day.. go get’em.”
Give yourself compliments. (Think Stuart Smalley SNL circa 1980’s)
Fake it til you make it. Pretend to be happy even when you’re not.
Look for the positive in any situation no matter how dire. If it’s not there, create it.
Side note: I admire morning people! I’m trying really hard to become one… currently I’m somewhere in between these two people:
Ok, back to what I was saying…
What this looks like for parents:
Reward good behavior with compliments.
Let your kids catch you talking great about them. (even when they don’t deserve it)
Occasionally give a prize for good behavior. (Be careful with giving children too many “prizes” because you don’t it to turn into bribery..)
Ignore bad behavior whenever possible. Distract the child by pointing out something positive going on nearby or simply changing the subject. You might have to hone in on your acting skills.
What it looks like for teachers in the classroom:
Point out students who are acting appropriately and praise their efforts.
Don’t bring attention to negative behavior. Address those children privately or discreetly.
Leave positive notes on their papers about their personal strengths.
Call home to brag on the student.
Brag about your class to other teachers.
I think it all just boils down to giving unconditional love to others even when they don’t deserve it. Expect them to be great and give them time to live up to that expectation. We are all a work in progress.
Go forth and spread the love!
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This bundle includes one of my favorites.. The Shout-Out binder. Faculty passes it around to spread cheer through the building. Last time I read the one at our school, I cried.
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