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Beyond carrots and sticks

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By Paul Dixbehaviour specialist

Take a look at our advice on how positive reinforcement is an effective way of managing behaviour

Girl doing 'thumbs up'

The image of the stick used to force children to behave well has a violence that echoes another era. I am not going to use negative reinforcement, threats or any other ‘stick’ wielded in anger to force my class to behave. I am going to encourage children with a softer stick: kindness.

The most powerful technique for wielding the soft stick is to remind children of their previous good behaviour as you tackle their present actions. For example: ‘Ashraf, do you remember when you helped me clear up the classroom? That is the Ashraf that I need to see today, that is the Ashraf I know can make good choices.’ There is nothing to argue with and nothing to attack.


Avoid short-term fixes

Shouting at or threatening children may create a change in behaviour; in the moment it might have the effect that you desire. In the longer term, it is a blunt instrument that has no proven effect on behaviour change. Many children thrive on the danger, adrenaline and risk that comes from a teacher using this type of behaviour management. The thrill of challenging an angry adult, the healthy applause from their friends and the immediacy of attention mean that the rewards outweigh the probable sanctions.

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