Praise and Positive Reinforcement as Discipline
Discipline is too often equated with punishment since most fathers only remember to apply it when something has gone wrong. But the purpose of discipline is about teaching the child right from wrong and that's also something that can be done in a positive way as well. It's important to remember that positive reinforcement can be an important disciplinary tool with your child.
One of my greatest tasks as a father is teaching my child about the world, what it means and ultimately how to survive in it. If Junior begins to think that I only notice her when things are going wrong, then the result will be defensiveness whenever I open my mouth and the necessary lesson isn't going to be learned. And frankly, it naturally gets tougher as the kids age and begin to think that they know more than they do.
So what do I try to remember about positive reinforcement and praise?
- Remember first and foremost that kids want your attention and time more than stuff.
- Praise is a more general term and is a feedback that you can provide in non-specific circumstances. For instance, if I'm chatting with one of the kids and tell her that she's really smart - and Eldest actually is - then that's providing feedback for a generalized trait regardless of any specific instance.
- Positive reinforcement is more specific and refers to a particular instance or series of instances. Telling Eldest that she's smart is praise, telling her that she really earned her A through persistence and a smart study plan is positive reinforcement. My attention to the situation reinforces the behaviors and habits that led to the good result.
- When I provide either, but especially positive reinforcement, I try to have one or more concrete examples to bolster the commentary. If I don't, then Junior's going to view it as overpraise and will both get a swelled ego and begin to ignore the commentary that actually accompanies it.
- I try to tailor the reinforcement to Junior's age level and experience. If Junior's three years of age, then positive reinforcement on good table manners is important. When she's fifteen, then good table manners are simply an expectation of standard behavior and usually not to be commented on. That said, I have on occasion issued a blanket compliment to the three kids when we're in a restaurant and we've witnessed a behavioral trainwreck at an adjoining table.
- Positive reinforcement is especially important when it's a new circumstance with which Junior's had no experience. It's also important on those occasions to talk to her in advance and give her some understanding of what's going to happen so she's not blindsided; the reinforcement at the end brings the experience home and lets her know how she did and that you even noticed.
These aren't magic in and of themselves, but they are valuable additions to the fatherhood toolbox. And a good and well-used toolbox is filled with implements that are regularly used.
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