Positive Reinforcement – Using the Premack’s Principle Correctly
In my last article, I talked about using the Magical Sentence based on the Premack’s Principle, today I’ll discuss how powerful it can be as a motivational tool, utilizing positive reinforcement.
If this tool is used occasionally, it doesn’t lose its potency. Like any strategy or tool, it is most effective when not overused. It can be very powerful to help your kids initiate an action. At times, it’s the igniter they need to take action. Also, it reminds them what they’re working for. Maybe they know they should complete a task, but they don’t feel motivated at the time. This tool helps them take action because it reminds them of the more desirable reward at the end of an undesired task.
A funny thing happens over time; kids end up using this principle, sometimes with each other. Once I witnessed a nine-year-old boy tell his younger sister, “First, let me finish my homework; then I’ll come play a game with you.” His sister stopped pestering him immediately. It’s even funnier when they use it on you! Once I told Josh, my nephew, to go wash up for dinner. He told me, “Auntie Shirin, first let me finish this game, then I’ll get ready for dinner.” I had used the “First/Then” sentence on him several times during his weekend visit with us (with great result). I smiled and thought, “Note to self: I may have been over-using the Premack’s Principle with Josh during his visit!”
Using it correctly is the key to your success.
Using it incorrectly is the most common mistake parents make when using this magical sentence. For example, instead of saying, “First, clean up your toys; then I’ll read to you,” they modify it slightly and say, “First clean up your toys; then I’ll read to you; okay?” This slight but significant variation can be a mistake because it adds an unnecessary factor: asking for permission. It sends a message that your kid has an option to respond with a “yes” or a “no”. That extra “okay?” creates an illusion of the child having control over giving “permission,”when that is not your intention at all. Although it may be okay to use a question when asking children for favors or making a suggestion, it is not effective to use that tone when placing a command. After all, the “First/Then” sentence is a command and would not be effective in the form of a question. When put in the form of a command, it can be very powerful in motivating your kids. Another common mistake is using too many words. Try to be as concise, clear and concrete as possible. Short and sweet!
Your Goal is Compliance…
An example of incorrect use of the sentence:
“First I want you to consider what we talked about earlier about taking care of your responsibility and your chores, okay? After that, then come talk to me about how you really want to watch your favorite show with me tonight. And I don’t even know how many times I have reminded you to put away your laundry today!”
Good luck getting any compliance out of that kid. I’d be surprised if he/she didn’t tune out after the first seven words.
Here is the correct version of the above example:
“First, finish your laundry, then we’ll watch the show tonight!”
Remember, both this sentence (“First______; then________”), and all its power are just a tool, and like any tool you can use this correctly to create wonderful results or use it incorrectly, with the results being frustration and confusion. This sentence is not a way to bribe, so if you use it that way, it will lose its power quickly. The words mean everything. How you use the magical sentence will determine its power in helping you to guide your child. I hope you use the guidelines I provided to make this tool your own magical sentence to motivate and redirect your kid with positive reinforcement, successfully when necessary.
Dr. Sherkat is a parent strategist who is available to do Parent Education Workshops, either Private or PTA Sponsored Classes.
Contact her at 425-772-6698.