Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Positive Reinforcement Gone Wrong

Thanks to Michael things are actually fairly mellow around here.

So mellow, in fact, that I am having some difficulties with the whole positive reinforcement thing.

Good enough for Santa? (Waiting for Santa's arrival at the Strathpine Shoppng Center.)

Positive reinforcement is also the cornerstone of the behavioural program at Lawnton State School.  So much so, that one begins to wonder when too much is too much.  The program is in place mostly for the children with behavioural issues and for those, often the same, who don't get the attention and positive reinforcement at home.  Ryan's teacher quoted some appalling statistic to me about children of university educated parents hearing positive things something like a hundred times a day while children of parents without a university education hear it only twenty.  By the time she got to children of parents with problems like drugs, alcohol and incarceration, the number went down to seven.

Don't quote me.  But you see where I'm going.

But when does the absence of positive reinforcement turn into a punishment in itself?

(Rest assured we never had these problems in the German school system!  There, Andrew's accomplishments were downplayed to make him more like everyone else and Ryan's accomplishments were never good enough to count at all.)

I strongly support the program at Lawnton.  How can I not love a program where the vice-principal comes onto the PA system before break to remind everyone to to be kind?!

But when I mimicked the program at home, I began to run into problems.  The first ten days were great.  We were dealing with minor issues; Matthew throwing a tantrum because Aidan had the chalkboard first, Aidan throwing his truck at Matthew, Ryan tickling Andrew on the back of the neck, Andrew punching Ryan in the face because of it.  All normal kid things really.

Not perfect, but trying.

When I implemented a reward system, counting the days they all behaved, and then celebrating with 'Spiders' after ten 'good' days, the days sped by quickly and we were sipping 'Spiders' almost immediately.  (Spiders are known as ice-cream sodas to the rest of the world.)

And now we can't get past two.

The problem doesn't lie in the kids' behaviour; again, we have some teasing, a bit of punching and throwing, some chatting with Jesus in a less-than-respectful manner. 

It lies in the expectations.

Sure, Aidan has called to Jesus twice in the past week.  But he immediately apologized and then told me that he really likes Jesus and meant no disrespect. 

There have been no other swears.  At all.  For ages and ages.

There IS hitting.  Aidan throws things quite a bit too. Quite a bit as in once every couple of days.  The hitting is almost daily, but it is one of the three boys throwing a quick punch.  Ryan pesters everyone almost constantly but we figure that is a girl thing.  (THANK GOD I HAVE FOUR BOYS!  I'll take a well-placed punch over constant pestering any day.)

Yes, good enough for Santa!  (I realize I have an extra in there; always room for one more, especially when it's Jade!)
Whatever it is, it happens once, is immediately addressed with a time-out, apologies are exchanged and the issue is over.

So that, really, ALL of our days are 'good' days.

And it seems that not labelling them as such under the current system is actually a form of punishment in itself.

I believe my expectations of perfect harmony at ALL TIMES isn't fair.  These are good kids.  They don't actually NEED a reward model as positive reinforcement for good behaviour.

The reward lies in a sense of family and in time spent together as family. 

Something a sticker on the forehead doesn't come close to.

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