Tag Archives: positive reinforcement

The 5 A’s of the Heart

I recently overheard an interaction between a child care provider and the children in her toddler classroom that made me a little bit uneasy. The sounds of children crying were eclipsed by their teacher saying, “Those of you who are crying, go away. My friends who aren’t crying want to have circle time.”

In Lynn Staley’s Nurturing Positive Behaviors In Your Classroom, she states that “children need mentors more then they need critics.” This has always rung true for me. Too often I observe child care providers speaking at children but not with them, using language that does not guide positive behavior but condescends and devalues. While I feel it’s important to point out that lengthy circle time is not appropriate for 2-year-olds, what’s most important for me to note about this interaction was the lack of empathy in the child care provider’s statement and her tone.

According to the “5 A’s of the heart,” also discussed in Staley’s book, children need affirmation, attention, acceptance, affection and appreciation. All children deserve affirmation, to hear positive reinforcement and praise. Regardless of behaviors, each child has strengths that we should emphasize.

Children also need attention. Every child wants to know that their caregivers are happy to see them each morning. Sometimes children “act out” because they are desperately seeking attention, and even negative attention is attention! When you have many children in your care, it’s important to recognize and value each child.

My personal favorite is acceptance. All children need to feel accepted and not just by their friends, but by you, too! Children will react by mimicking your behavior, so remember that if you are constantly saying a child’s name or calling a child out for challenging behaviors, the other children may not include that child in play and may even tell that child that she is “bad.” I like to think of Staley here, too: “When we speak every child’s name with kindness and respect, it is the truest demonstration of our sincerity.”

Research has shown that warm, responsive touch positively influences a child’s development, so show them some affection! With the child’s permission offer high fives, hugs, lap sitting and other appropriate touching as much as possible. Remember that not every child welcomes touching, so when we ask we’re showing that child appreciation, too. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children want to feel valued and appreciated. All people do.

Let’s be honest, anyone who has ever worked in a child care setting has experienced circle time like the one I described in the beginning. I know I have. However, the best professionals (in any field) want to learn from their mistakes and do better. If you’ve ever wanted to tell a crying toddler to “go away,” consider this: the “5 A’s of the heart” will help you to have a classroom that supports a child’s growing identity, shows each child how much you value them and are there to comfort them and will hopefully keep you from reaching a place where you feel you need to tell any child to “go away.”

Rewarding Children–at What Cost?

It is human nature to want to be recognized for a job well done. In contrast to how good we feel when we’re rewarded for our efforts, we certainly dislike when our behaviors or actions are neither desired nor rewarded. Have you ever wondered how rewarding children, or not rewarding children, might affect their behavior?

As a trainer for early childhood teachers, I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate discussions on rewarding children: the pros and cons, the outcomes, why we do it. Many teachers have theorized that rewarding young children can lead to positive behavior, while another teacher may have experiences of quite the opposite. In a discussion online in The New York Times, the editor talks with Alfie Kohn, keynote speaker at our last Early Childhood Conference and nationally recognized speaker on education and parenting, about how rewarding children is often only a temporary solution, and doesn’t affect behaviors in the long term. I always ask myself if I want children to expect a reward for everything, and the answer, of course, is no. Though I have as an adult been rewarded for a good deed, I don’t expect recognition every time. Positive behavior and good deeds should come easily and be what’s expected, not the reward.

Teachers should be cautious when implementing any reward system. A reward system, like many other routine interactions, sends a variety of messages to children, and families, and not always the ones that we want. Some factors you may want to consider when implementing a reward system include: is the method of reward development appropriate for children? Can you really observe and recognize the behavior of each child in your care? Are the results of children’s behavior kept confidential? Are the rewards appropriate for young children?

There’s a big difference between rewarding and positive reinforcement, which is often what we intend to do when we offer rewards. The way we communicate with children, and how we teach them to communicate in turn, can be far more powerful than offering a sticker or a special treat. Ask yourself, which strategy will provide the best learning, rewarding behaviors or using positive reinforcement? The answer might surprise you.