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When I was a little girl, no more than 5, I heard someone say that I was "as stubborn as a hog on ice". I don't remember why I was being called stubborn, but I sure got a funny mental picture of a pig with sharp pointy hooves scrambling on the ice, with absolute determination to make it to her chosen destination.
I don't know what I was being stubborn about, but it could not have been all that bad because I did not have to go sit in the "chair". Whatever it was, I am glad that what was perceived to be stubbornness at that early age was nurtured and translated into the determination I needed as an adult to work my way through the various opportunities and adversities that marked my path.
Observing that a certain trait may be described in negative or positive terms, such as stubborn/determined, is an asset to both educator and parent, and is particularly valuable for the young student. For instance, if a child is described as aggressive, it is well to remember that learning can be considered a "forceful" act: one learns more by actively pursuing knowledge than by just watching and listening. Hence, while we might want to help a child learn to be kind and thoughtful with his friends, we would also hope to retain the constructive feature of the aggressiveness.
Similar adjectives that have positive/negative aspects:
Keeping our mind open to the words we use to describe a young student's behavior, and stopping to think twice about all aspects of the behavior can help us identify many more such words and remind us to look for the positive.
Better Beginnings' Executive Director, Luz Nereida Horta, reminds me that there are times, also, when we need to maintain balance. For example, if a child persists in using his fists rather than "his words", we will need to employ some positive disciplinary tactics, such as giving him/her choices with consequences that will encourage him to take responsibility for his actions.
Being mindful of the affirmative also reminds us to include the positive to encourage developmental growth. For instance, we find it fruitful when looking for a certain action to draw attention to the behavior we want rather than to criticize someone for an unwanted behavior.
As a beginning teacher of four-year-olds, I tried out this concept with my group with such good results that I was sold forever. One of my "new" students had firmly attached himself to me and was extremely eager for my approval. He always claimed the seat to my immediate left when we sat down each day for our nutritious "free" lunch. On this particular day, we were not serving finger food. In fact, we were having spaghetti. In my peripheral vision I noticed that he was shoveling in the food into his mouth with his hands. I knew that if I drew attention to this, or chastised him, he would be devastated. Instead I looked to my right, saying, "Oh, look!", Tommy has learned to use his fork!" As is my habit when using the positive to achieve wanted behaviors, I went all the way around the table, giving each student reinforcement for their table manners and, you guessed it, by the time I got around to little Jerry on my left, he, too, was using his fork!
Teachers at Better Beginnings have heard this story a number of times. This positive reinforcement method has consistently paid off for everyone. I hear teachers every day, all over the center saying, "I see that Kathy is walking in the hall." "I really like the way that Meredith is keeping her hands to herself." The fact that our children are so happy, courteous, and well-behaved is frequently mentioned by visitors and family members. This positive approach is a big contributor to this atmosphere.
I also hear parents adapting this method. As they are leaving the center, I hear, "I love seeing you be so courteous", enjoying the fact that her child has said "Good night" and "Thank you" to each teacher, and "I'm sorry" when he bumped into a classmate. Of course, the teachers always have something positive to report about the day's events to the family members when they come to pick up their child. And the joy of it is, when we look for it, there is always, without fail, a long list of things about which to be very positive.
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