Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nail Biting and the Power of Positive Feedback

Sometimes I forget just how powerful feedback can be. I was reading a book that is applicable to both the home and the classroom, called Parenting Without Punishment. The book is rather technical, but it has all sorts of practical ideas that really work.

As I was reading the book, I realized that I give my son, Mateo, so much negative feedback for biting his nails. I am constantly saying things like, "Take your hands out of your mouth." And I have even tried encouraging him bite on his nails on purpose to get him to stop. That was a royal disaster. Over the course of the past few months, he has been biting his nails more and more.

On top of that, his little sister Natalia has also started biting his nails. Clearly, my methods were not working. I was stuck in a cycle. I didn't know what else to do.

Then I read Parenting Without Punishment and realized how much negative feedback I was giving him. I was never praising him when his hands were out of his mouth. And, realistically, most of the time he was doing the right thing.

Once I started ignoring the nail biting, and giving him praise for keeping his fingers dry, he started to turn the corner. Sure, he still bites his nails, but the amount has decreased by a good 90%. Once I started praising him, I realized just how much of the time he was doing the right thing. And I was ignoring the right behaviors.

How often do I do this in the classroom as well? What percentage of the time are my difficult students actually doing the right thing and I just ignore them? Even though I try to catch kids doing the right thing, I am afraid that I don't all too often. This was a good reminder of the power of positive attention.

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