Positive Reinforcement Learning

Positive reinforcement learning is crucial to your childs education. Negative emotions interfere with the brain's ability to process and store information.

School is no longer what it used to be. Where has the fun gone? Now as parents we meet our children after school with apprehension and a prayer in our hearts- not another complaint from the school, not another detention, another project to do, another fight! Or do we have trouble getting our children out of bed Monday through Friday? A child has several years to spend in school. The experiences he has are very influential in his development and later attitude to life and learning. Every child is born with a vast intelligence and a natural curiosity and love of learning. School must nourish and nurture these, not damage them.

Learning is the ability to take in new information through our senses and process and store the useful bits for further use. Proper storage makes for proper memory. Intelligence is the ability to use this stored up information to respond appropriately to any present situation. In order for a human being to learn well and act intelligently therefore the processes of receiving information, sorting it out and storing it must not be interfered with. Interference can occur at different stages:

a) interference with the receiving- too much unnecessary noise and other signals going in at the time of learning.

b) Difficulty comparing and contrasting the new information with already stored up information- not sufficiently clear cues stored with the information for easy checking.

c) Inability to respond appropriately at the moment- the brain is shut down, or one feels like one cannot think well at the moment.

Learning can be interfered with by both internal and external factors. The internal factors can be actual physical damage to the brain at birth or later, chemical imbalances or damage to the nervous system. The external factors could include the learning environment (structure of the classroom, physical comfort), the material to be learned and the method of presentation and practice.

One of the major internal factors interfering with learning that is not paid enough attention to is feelings or emotions. For every situation we experience there are emotions attached to it. These emotions get tangled up with the information and prevent the storage process from taking place effectively. If these emotions, especially negative ones, are not cleared out they get triggered repeatedly by similar situations. Each time the emotion is triggered it interrupts the sorting and storing processes again. New information coming in at the present time gets added to the tangle instead of being stored properly. These negative emotions and tangled up data take up our space that should be clear for fresh thinking, learning and being creative. Remember how difficult it used to be to pay attention in class when you were anxious, worried or upset?

In order for learning to take place the learner must be feeling good, and this does not only mean that she must not be tired, hungry, depressed, frightened, confused , bored, etc. We all carry around feelings of invalidation, being criticized or humiliated or embarrassed. Nine out of every ten experiences in any young person's life leaves her with some amount of these feelings, as subtle as they may appear or as much as the young person attempts to hide it or not be aware of it. From very early in life humans are not allowed to completely release these feelings- crying is interrupted from babyhood, raging to release anger is definitely not tolerated and labeled as bad behaviour or rudeness, shaking to release fear or giggling to release embarrassment are considered silly. Yet these are how our bodies naturally deal with and release emotions.

As parents and care-givers you could support your children through school by:

1. Listening to your children with full attention. Set aside special time to do nothing else but listen with delight. Don't interrupt . Don't be judgemental verbally or otherwise. Don't invalidate their feelings. Encourage your child to express his feelings - of hurt, anger, embarrassment, fear, boredom. It is especially useful to set aside time to listen to your child at the end of each school day.

2. Playing games. Young people release a lot of their emotions through playing. Active games that encourage positive physical contact and loud noises are best, e.g. pillow-fighting.

3. Role-playing. Watch them "play teacher". They use this as a safe way to act out their frustrations that are blocking their mental well-being.

4. Setting goals with them and helping them to monitor their progress. Help them to set up a realistic study schedule.

5. Providing as many different learning experiences as possible- outings, trips, informative television viewing, appropriate movies, conversations with resource people.

6. Rewarding them for improvement and performance not just for achievement. Don't demonstrate disappointment when the child does not seem to live up to your expectations.

7. Love them "in spite of" and "just because".

© High Speed Ventures 2011