Back when I was in charge of running a teen shelter, I met with my staff individually every week, as part of their professional development. Each week, each of them was supposed to be prepared with a self-reflection to discuss — some moment or idea from the last week that made them think about how well they were doing, what they’re good at, what they could use improvement on, etc.
I try to still practice this for myself in all aspects of my life, from working with the boys to the way I interact with my fiancee. I’m very good at what I do, but I always try to remember that I’m not beyond improvement. Not by a long shot.
This past week, I had a self-reflection of my own, and that is that I haven’t been praising Salvador and Yoshi enough.I briefly mentioned the importance of praise as a reinforcer in last week’s Behavior 101 post, but that hardly did it justice. The importance of praise in all interpersonal relationships has been demonstrated empirically, most notably in in Stephen Ray Flora’s article “Praise’s Magic Reinforcement Ratio: Five to One Gets the Job Done.” (2000; check it out in this PDF, starting on page 16)
In short, the notion is that kids learn better and form better relationships when they are praised significantly more than they are corrected or criticized. I don’t think I’ve been doing that.
The problem isn’t that I don’t praise at all, or that I’m not nice, but too often I’m quick to correct a behavior, rather than recognizing that it might not need correcting. I get so hung up on the notion of making everything about learning a skill or lesson that I don’t necessarily get an accurate read on the situation.
For example, one day last week when I arrived to pick up Yoshi, he was sitting in a chair by himself, away from the group. The rest of the kids were in a circle listening to a story while Yoshi sat there, frowning. I assumed he was in a time out, so when we left the classroom I asked him why he had to be in time out. Before we got too deep into it, his teacher overheard and explained that he had fallen asleep, so she put him in a chair to help wake him up and make him more attentive. He woke up shortly before I arrived, hence the frown.
In that moment, I made an assumption that his behavior was negative and tried to teach to it, rather than considering alternatives.
What I have to remember is that my job isn’t always about getting things done, sticking to a script or constantly disciplining. Frequently, it’s about just paying attention to the kids and what they need in that moment, and my tunnel vision doesn’t help in those situations.
So, I’ve made it a point to be a little more patient and lend a modicum more analysis to a given situation, so that I can react more appropriately and give more praise where it’s due. These kids could use a little more sunshine from their sometimes rigid Manny.
What about you? What’s your parenting/child care self-reflection?
(Image credit: @boetter’s flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.)