Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Positive Reinforcement

R' Doron Beckerman has a very good piece on Cross-Currents regarding education that I'd like to throw out a couple excerpts from:
There is an educational approach known as “The Nurtured Heart Initiative,” or “The Inner Wealth Initiative,” developed by Dr. Howard Glasser, that takes the above to the next level, inverting the equation altogether. The concept is that “difficult children seek intense relationships, and they quickly learn that they can readily engage and control others through negative behavior. These children can become almost addicted to the rush of this kind of relationship” (The Inner Wealth Initiative, pg. 165).

What this approach does is intentionally pour on huge amounts of positive energy when the student is doing something positive... [...]

On the negative side of things, problems and poor choices should not be given much attention and energy, and they thus become unnecessary as a way to gain relationships. To be sure, rules are strictly enforced, but not with high intensity interactions, long-winded lectures and the like. These reactions are perceived by the relationship-seeking child as an energetic reward, and encourage more of the same. The “action” happens when good things take place, and that is where the student naturally wants to be.
I don't think this is limited to difficult students, either; I think it's as applicable to little kids, young adults, and grown men and women. One of the most difficult parts of parenting or teaching is striking the balance of not taking good actions for granted, which allows kids to think that only negative actions will get them attention, and making clear that those actions are to some extent expected to encourage kids to strive to improve even further.

May we all be blessed with the wisdom to approach such situations with the proper balance.


  1. IMHO it's not just balance (which is of cource important) but also the time allocation. When you have 28 kids in a classroom, it's tough to give all the time that each child needs.

    She-nir'eh et nehamat Yerushalayim u-binyanah bi-mherah ve-yamenu

    Joel Rich

  2. like anony.. while this is true- try giving lots of positive attention to 25 kids- it's hard. But that is what we shld b doing, any ideas how/

  3. Great post, Ezzie.
    I think "difficult children" tend to seek whatever type of relationship allows them to get attention.

  4. Joel - Agreed. Parents need to play a role as well, which will help in that.

    Miss A - I'm not sure of a solution...

    Neil - Right.

  5. Joel and Miss A -

    Parents are critical as Ezzie says. They're the only ones who can give the one-on-one.

    For the teacher - identifying the most needy and going full blast with the sincere, specific praise, and outside of class time interaction, are key where extra help is needed.

    Easier said than done, though, and there are tough cases where indeed a too-large class will not do justice to their needs.

  6. I came across your blog by accident. Glad i did! What you have just said reinforces what my daughter's counselor has us to us. she has reactive attachmnet disorder and THRIVES on pushing my buttons and getting a negative response. But now that we are doing things that "Nurtured Heart" way, it's actually very liberating for me because i don't have to get angry and engaged in the, "But i've told you this a hundred times...negative lectures etc etc. the punishment (a deduction off of her allowance or grounding where there is also no contact with her pets) is doled out swiftly and immediately (like a police-man giving a ticket) and therefore, it makes it much easier for me to dish out positive reinforcement because i'm not all pissed off after getting all up-set. I don't get up-set anymore. It's great and she is responding VERY well!! Yeah!! there is hope!!
    Gina Browning
    author And illustrator