Imagine wanting to speak with a friend of yours who lives several hundred miles away. You wait until after 5 PM when the long distance telephone rates are lower. You pick up your rotary telephone and dial the number only to discover that the phone lines are down because of a recent storm in the area.
Wait a minute. What century are we in? If you wanted to speak with a friend who lives some distance from you and neither of you have easy, free access with your cell phones, you might decide to Skype each other for free, not only speaking but making a visual connection too.
Now imagine that you want to work with your misbehaving child, whether that child is your student, son or daughter. And now imagine that you are going to use some form of positive reinforcement or mild punishment. You find out what the child likes and entice their cooperative, good behavior by promising a reward or threaten to withhold what the child wants. In Dr. Phil’s vernacular, you try to discover the child’s currency and use this to your advantage by threatening to withhold it or promise to deliver more of it so you can get what you want.
These behavior management ideas are as old school, archaic, and based on last century science as using rotary telephones connected with wires. And yet, these are still the predominant strategies used in schools and homes across the United States. Perhaps the kinds of carrots being offered are more pleasant, the prizes more shiny, and the sticks less humiliating and damaging. But the underlying manipulation hasn’t changed. And the ultimate ineffectiveness and destruction caused by these ideas still prevail.
As a parent or teacher, part of your daily concern is children’s behavior – and I don’t mean the “good” kind. How much of your time is focused on the cooperative, happy children who are engaged in learning and play, participating and following their curiosity, and using responsible behaviors? The term “behavior management” is not used in the context of busy, active, engaged, and achieving children. Behavior management is concerned with manipulation of children so adults can get what they want. The claim is made that this “guidance” is ultimately for the child’s own good. But let’s please be honest and acknowledge that the original motivation for classroom or behavior management is for the benefit of adults. In fact, if it weren’t impolite and proven ineffective, most teachers would probably want to voice their desire to children thus: “Shut up, sit down, listen, and learn.” And some parents actually do express themselves like this: “Do it because I said so” and “I told you to stop doing that.”
Okay, I realize that this may be a bit extreme, but I think it’s time that parents and teachers get up to speed, understand behavior differently, and use more effective strategies. This will be the focus of my next several pieces, introducing (or for some reviewing) what the new science teaches us about children, their motivation and our behavior.