Learning a new behavior is hard; not only must you understand the task, but if you are trying to replace an old behavior, your synapses are biased to perform the old behavior. In frightening or threatening situations response time is everything so the body and brain are going to reach for the quickest and most familiar responses.
— Debra F. Horwitz, veterinary behaviorist
There Had to Be a Better Way!
Miss Sherry’s yelling was very loud and non-productive, so one day, I decided to try something. I got some books from the library on child education and decided to try a method outlined in a book and was astounded by the results.
One day Miss Sherry was getting frustrated with a child who had a tantrum. The child didn’t want to pick up the toys, so he just tossed them on the floor. Miss Sherry was ready to raise her big voice. It was then that I decided to step in.
I told Mrs. Sherry, “‘Watch this”….. I knelt down at the child’s level and said, “Andrew, would you like to help Miss Adrienne pick up the blocks or the cars?”
Andrew looked at me inquisitively for a few seconds as if making a tough decision, and then with enthusiasm, he said, “I’ll get the blocks, Miss Adrienne!”
“And I’ll get the cars,” I said as we high-fived.
In less than a minute we were done! Amazing, the methods outlined in the book I read really worked!
By asking the question, the child was given a choice, versus being ordered to do something he disliked. Also, it turned out to be a game, so other children joined in and split the car-picking task with some picking up the blue cars, while others grabbed the red ones, and some others got the yellow ones.
From that day on, we used this method to help with clean-up and we also played music and enticed the kids to get it all done before the songs ended.I think the fact I never raised my voice seemed to make a world of difference. When Miss Sherry was demanding things with her loud powerful voice, I tried to ask in a low, almost whispering tone, and used rewards to reinforce compliance and good choices.
The Power of Positive Reinforcement
My use of rewards started as a way to speed up the children’s potty training. I must admit, I dreaded changing diapers. The little kids on two legs were peeing and pooping machines.
I had never changed a diaper before, so Miss Sherry was nice enough to take care of this the first few days so as not to gross me out.
While you would imagine a diaper would nicely contain messes, I soon discovered that diapers often weren’t enough. I have seen liquid poop seep right through a child’s diaper and then on me when the child sat on my lap. Yuck! Phew! Gag!
I swear I was gagging a whole lot those first days and even the mere sight of chocolate pudding, which was often served after lunch, had me gagging, too, and the kids were laughing.
Actually, I even got seriously sick. I had to call off just a week after working there and was forced to stay at home with what seemed to be a mysterious case of the Coxsackie virus, which I later learned is caused by contact with surfaces contaminated with feces! Not surprising with those leaky diapers and children sitting everywhere and touching everything!