Inevitably, a student in your class will start to misbehave or act inappropriately. It could just be a minor, annoying infraction, or his/her behavior could be more serious, something that could cause harm to him/herself or others. There are several ways for you as the teacher (or parent, if this is happening at home) to discipline your student, and perhaps when you think of “discipline” your mind automatically thinks “punishment”. That’s ok – a lot of us have been programmed to think that the two words are interchangeable. But there is a better way to discipline your students and reinforce the behavior you ultimately want.
Positive reinforcement works when presenting a motivating or reinforcing stimulus to a person after the desired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior more likely to happen in the future. Often when a person is acting out, they are looking for a reaction – any reaction – from you. So even a negative reaction, such as a reprimanding or taking away privileges, serves their purpose.
Positive reinforcement works so well with kids because it involves them in the discipline process and makes them responsible. It is also proactive and encouraging a child for exhibiting a positive behavior, versus punishment, which is reactive, always occurring after a behavior has happened. Children ultimately want the approval of their parents and teachers.
So what are some examples of positive reinforcement? You might think giving a child a cookie to get him/her to stop whining is a good example – but that is only reinforcing a bad behavior (whining=cookies!). You are instead trying to reinforce desired behaviors. So if you see a student has cleaned his desk or locker space, praise him “Hey your desk/locker looks really clean right now. Good job!” Or “It was really nice of you to help Megan with her Math problems.” Giving out little rewards at these times – homework passes, an extra five minutes of recess time for the class, an in-class movie party are all great ways to reward positive behavior. Some teachers like to keep a point system or tally for rewards. Students can collect points (or stars or stickers) for positive behavior and then trade them in for a larger reward.
Don’t just limit your positive reinforcement to students or kids! You can try it out on co-workers and spouses as well! Focusing on the positive will help lift your day as well as those around you – it’s much more fun to focus on good things than bad.
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