BY RACHEL MESMER LUDWIG, CHILDREN’S SPOA COORDINATOR
One of the things I like most about Parental Guidance is the helpful tips and new ways of looking at parenting issues. I have read in PG about positive reinforcement for example and how it is effective as a skill of parenting as well in the in the role of teaching. Positive reinforcement can be used to encourage a child to complete basic tasks such as cleaning up, brushing teeth, or washing hands. It can also be use to diminish some behaviors that are less appealing like not following directives or name calling. Basically, positive reinforcement is a way of specifying behaviors that are desirable and encouraging those behaviors to keep happening. This has been shown to work with children as a part of pretty much every parenting resource I can think of. When a skill works, why not consider other areas you can use this same way of thinking? Let's think through together how this technique works and how we use it and how we could potentially use it as adults, not just with children but with adults – ourselves and others.
Positive reinforcement can be used to improve a child's adherence to everyday tasks. This is done with positive reinforcers. Any type of reward of incentive that is effective in increasing the desired behavior can be a positive reinforcer. Think about putting extra thread through a button hole or on a hem, to be sure it will stay. This is what we can do with behavior. What you are doing is really giving prevention attention to encourage the behavior you like to continue. Some examples of positive reinforcers are: Giving the child increased attention; providing compliments or recognition specific to the behavior; physical praise like hugs or high fives. Some additional examples for teachers are: Extra time on an activity; designation as helper; notes to parents and/or on the board; extra credit. Sometimes behavior charts are used and stickers, stars, tickets or token may be the reinforcer. Rewards that are tangible (material or tactical/touchable) are very helpful in that the child can make a direct connection between the action and the positive consequence.
Positive reinforcement can be used in many ways for adults too. One way we can use it is in preparing ourselves to respond to a behavior. For example, if you have a child who may be in a pattern of acting out, if you can prepare to deal with the behavior before it occurs, you'll set yourself up for success. If you do a little rehearsal of your reaction, you'll be ready to respond when the behavior occurs. So, with the 20/20 vision that comes in hindsight (unless you're one of those witty responders – with 100% appropriate reactions), identify a specific behavior that bothered you. Think of how you responded and how you wish you had responded so next time you will be prepared to be right on target.
At a recent training a step by step example for responding to behavior was provided that can help guide this activity. Start with who else knows about this (people who can help you clarify the behavior in a factual way vs. emotional way and help you step away from the situation and remind you many things you do not have to address alone). Together define the behavior – being specific-where, when it occurs. Think through what comes before the behavior. Then move on to identifying the chain of events that happened during and what happened as a result. Try to determine why the behavior happens - have others give their opinion too. Consider what strengths and resources you have to address this behavior. When you have included others in thinking through this process, you're likely to have some teamwork in addressing it if it happens again. Make sure you let others know their role if you're counting on them to be involved next time. Most importantly, don't forget to celebrate success.
You can use positive reinforcement on yourself. When you have a goal you're much more likely to achieve this goal if you make it very relevant for yourself. Just as through the steps above, identify the specifics of what you want to change and who can help you do it. Usually we try to change things that we're not happy about. How often though do you get really precise about why you want to change? Also, how often are you building in steps and celebrating successes. One thing that is important in using this skill on ourselves as well as with others is that we have to make the reinforcer highly relevant. We hear information and commit to changes when we are ready. Sometimes we are likely to make a significant change only when we hear life changing information like if given a diagnosis of a major illness or of pregnancy for example. Also it is very important to remember that some changes take a longer time to implement and/or see impact. Try to consider how much time it will take to see results and commit to giving the time needed as a fair trial.
I think it's important to cite a few characteristics of how adults typically learn. Malcolm Knowles is one of the pioneers of this subject area. He named independence, connection to experience, practical, relevant, respectful and goal oriented as characteristics of adult learning. If you think through each of these there are potentials within for motivation and therefore for positive reinforcement. If you allow for creativity and to build off experience and in doing so respect independent decisions that are made, the outcome is very likely to be continued and to be a success.
I like to offer quotes when I write in PG. This one comes from daily motivation and inspiration expert, Ralph Marston. "You've done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive unstoppable determination."
To close I will restate the fact that PG is a great place to find positive reinforcement.
That is why Parental Guidance is great – new ideas, some will hit home. If we're reading each month it will hit us when it is relevant. As you read through this month's magazine you'll find reassurance in that some of the facts and suggestions are very familiar. You're also likely to find some new ways of looking at things. With a commitment to life long learning, we can all only improve upon what we offer from our unique space in this community and in this world.
Smith, M. K. (2002) 'Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and anadragogy', the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/thinkers/et-knowl.htm.
Rachel Ludwig works for Chautauqua County Department of Mental Health as the Project Director of the Chautauqua Tapestry System of Care. Rachel grew up in Warren and has been a member of the Chautauqua community since 2005. Rachel resides in Ashville with her husband Ben and son Logan.