My husband and I were sailors. No, we didn’t take off across the oceans to see far-away places.
But we did navigate up and down the coast of Oregon and Washington, maneuvered rivers where ocean freight liners traveled and cruised the San Juan and Canadian Gulf Islands.
To begin sailing or cruising, the first thing you learn is the basics of navigation: where the invisible lanes are in the water, who has the right of way, how to read a “chart”, etc.
Without this knowledge you can quickly end up on the rocks, in shoals or stuck on sandbars.
The Basic Rules of Navigation – Behavioral Management
The basic rules we teach our children can help them navigate through the rocks and shoals of life. It tells them what to expect, why it is important and the consequences of ignoring them.
When attending Coast Guard Navigation classes as newbie sailors, we were motivated to learn because of safety so we could enjoy our time on the water. Children do not have that motivation. It is up to us as parents to provide that motivation through positive reinforcement.
Rules give us the framework of what to do; behavioral management helps reinforce and keep in place the behaviors we want. Behaviors that are reinforced remain in place. If you want to remove a behavior, remove how it is being reinforced.
Anything that increases behaviors are called reinforcers; these can be either positive or negative. They are not bribes. Bribes are rewards for immoral or illegal acts.
Reinforcers or rewards are anything of importance to a person that will continue to motivate them. That is true for adults as well as children. The rewards can be social, tangible objects, or activities; things like hugs, play time with a parent, time on computer, snacks, etc. are all powerful motivators as long as it is important to the child.
Establishing point charts is a good starting place. As children accomplish the goals set out for them, they are rewarded with a star or other indicator that visually shows their accomplishments. These points can be “cashed in” for a personal reward from a list that has been established ahead of time with both the parent and child.
Reinforcers are usually a combination of things.
Patty gets 15 play points on a chart every time she picks up her toys at the end of the day. She also receives encouraging words and a hug.
Instead of something that is given, a negative reinforcement is something that is removed which increases the behavior and keeps it in place.
Johnny yells and screams in the store until Mom buys him the candy
he wanted so he will stop the tantrum.
Mom is negatively reinforced, because when she gives in to Johnny he stops yelling. (Something removed). Johnny is positively reinforced because he gets what he wants – candy (something received).
Mom continues to yell at Johnny to come to breakfast until he gets up, gets dressed and comes down so Mom will stop yelling at him.
Johnny is negatively reinforced because he gets up to stop Mom nagging at him.
Rules of Reinforcement
Once again, to be effective, reinforcers need to be rewarding or offer some kind of stimulus that will encourage the specific behavior we want. They must have value and importance to the child. This is also true for us as adults. When we want to put a new behavior in place, we need to find ways to reinforce our repeating the behavior until it becomes a habit.
Behaviors that are reinforced or rewarded immediately and consistently in the beginning will be put in place. Once the behaviors are established, however, they are kept in place by sporadically rewarding them in some way. They become a habit, a way of living.
To put behaviors in place, we need to be specific about what is expected. As parents be careful to keep any promises you make.
Whenever possible, focus more attention on positive behaviors rather than correcting mistakes and/or criticizing. A good rule to remember is remind and encourage instead of threaten and punish.
Here are the basic rules:
- To put a behavior in place, reward on a fixed and regular basis.
Susy receives 25 cents every time she completes her homework before going to play. She also receives recognition by her Mom for completing the task.
- To keep a behavior in place, give reinforcers intermittently vs. a regular basis.
Billy completes his homework when he comes home from school. He doesn’t need to be reminded or rewarded every day because the behavior is in place. Instead, complement and reward occasionally. Billy has already gained a sense of satisfaction from completing his homework without being told.
- When putting a difficult behavior in place, reinforce small steps, approximate behaviors or first attempts.
Sarah is rewarded with a hug, smile and verbal comments every time
she helps clear the table even if it is just one plate.
Establish rules that are appropriate for a child’s age. Don’t expect behaviors from children that are too young to understand what is expected of them. As children get older they are able to learn more complex rules.
Focus on positive behaviors and reward and encourage them as much as possible. For younger children sometimes diversion is enough to change their direction.
What rules did you have growing up that were beneficial to you? How did they help you navigate life as you got older? How were they reinforced? Understanding what motivates you today can be extremely beneficial as you put new habits in place.
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