I recently started working for a not-for-profit organization that provides supervision and treatment for at-risk youth referred by Child and Family Services. The children are placed into community-based teaching homes where a treatment plan is created with the resident teaching parents to identify important skills that will benefit the children in learning how to deal with others, as well as skills for school and work, being involved in the community, and for living independently.
What’s interesting is the key to effectively building those skills and influencing positive behaviors.
The minimum ratio of positive reinforcement to instruction or correction is 4 to 1, and increases to 10 to 1 whenever behaviors are heightened. Praise is never arbitrary. Tolerance for negative behavior is always low. Negative behavior always has a consequence. But the catalyst for change is always praise.
Consider it this way. All these children know is their shortcomings. They’ve been reminded of them at every turn. They’re documented in reports. The majority of them have been labelled. Out of control, attention deficit, problematic, delinquent, anti-social, suicidal, volatile.
But, has any of this ever motivated a child to change their behavior? Has criticizing, punishing, and labelling a child ever been a catalyst for change? Has any of it helped them understand how to change? Why to change? How changing benefits them in the long run?
Not if we do it the doom and gloom way.
I know this firsthand because I grew up in a home where corporal punishment, criticism, and labelling were the norm. To be honest, I didn’t understand most of it. I still don’t. All I understood was that something was wrong with me. And that’s the way I went out into the world. Deeply flawed. No sense of self-worth. No self-esteem. It wasn’t the best start, and I paid a price for it.
If we really pay attention to a child and take the time to praise them for the things we see, both big and small, we will make a difference in their lives, in their self-perception, and in their self-esteem. If we explain why the things we see are good, they will come to understand that too. And, when their behavior needs correction, they will be more open to understanding the need for the consequence, and what the benefit is to changing their behavior… if they are being praised and positively reinforced each step of the way.
The goal is to have the children learn to both calm themselves and to acquire the ability to self regulate independently. To do that, they need more parameters, couched in more of our presence, praise, and positive reinforcement. It takes time, consistency, commitment, dedication, and patience.
But, it’s worth it.
Pushing a child down will never build him or her up.
We can either do things the easy way or the hard way. I would rather do the things the hard way, to positively invest in a child and to potentially give them the building blocks to go out into the world with a better sense of who they are, better equipped to successfully navigate in life, relationships, and society.
“When virtues are pointed out first, flaws seem less insurmountable.” – Judith Martin
I’m upping the praise.