Positive reinforcement is needed

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

By Nathan Rice

He sent me a message on Friday asking if he could do a quick video chat with me. “I want to show you my room,” he said. We set a time for the call, and he flipped his camera around excitedly to show me his newly cleaned room. He gave me the rundown of the steps he had completed, including how he cleaned the desk on Monday, threw out all the trash on Tuesday, and so on.

I made sure to comment on the changes I saw in his room. “Your dresser looks amazing,” I said. “I love the way you can set up the decorations and how they aren’t hidden by trash any longer.” I continued to share my amazement as he panned from one area of his room to the next. “Look at all that space on the floor,” I said. He replied excitedly, “I know! I love it!”

We had talked a few weeks prior about how cleaning his room could help him in his life as he continued to grow from childhood into adolescence. There would be several benefits to having a cleaner room, and he was now reaching the age where he could be expected to keep it in a relatively clean state on his own. It took him several weeks to heed my advice, but he was now excited to share what he had done.

It is important to pour a lot of positive reinforcements into children when they heed your advice, show improvement in an area, or conquer a task they struggled to achieve. We all like to hear that we have done a good job, and this is no different for children. They need it more than adults.

We should lavish verbal praise on the effort and point out the great results we see when children achieve a goal or improve in an area. Linking the praise to tangible things that you have noticed, such as loving how you can see all the cool decorative items on the clean dresser, lets them know you are genuinely seeing improvement and noticing the change. When you speak specifically, it’s more than just words.

Resist the urge to criticize anything during this initial phase. Save additional areas of improvement for another discussion. His room was far from perfect, but it was much better than it had been. Ignoring improvements to focus solely on the areas that are still lacking can demoralize them quickly. You don’t, and shouldn’t, ignore additional areas that need to be improved, but give children time to relish their accomplishments before moving on to something else. Save additional areas of improvement for another discussion.

Rewards can also be given when strides forward are taken. That night, I logged online so Timothy could teach me a game that he’s always wanted me to play. “Since you’ve done such a great job with your room, let’s play that game you wanted to teach me.” Rewards shouldn’t be the only reason children take steps forward, but they can play a part in teaching them the benefits of working hard.

Positive reinforcement is important for children, and it’s our job to make sure they know that we are proud of their efforts and notice their results.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.