Series I – Motivation

Swinging moods? Be careful, it effects how your child learns

It’s Friday night. Everyone wants to unwind over the weekend, have fun or just not do what they do the entire week.  Everyone wants to do that, including your teenager. Probably, they want to catch up on the new Marvel movie or just hang out in Starbucks or check out a new series on Netflix. So many grand plans. This is how the conversation goes:

“Mom, I am going out to the movies on Saturday”

Natural parenting habit kicks in and you start on the offensive, “No assignments or tests coming up next week?”

Your kid shrugs his shoulders, “Well, there’s one on Wednesday. It’s no big of a deal.”

That’s when things spiral out of hand.

“Remember your last no-big-of-a-deal test? With your not-impressive score? And remember what you said?

Your kid roll his eyes and mumble, “I said I’d make it up next time.”

You are bothering on hysterics while they stare at their phone screen, “This is your NEXT time. And you are making it up big time.”

“But Mom, you know I slogged for that test. I really can’t help it if the score was not exactly up-to-the-standards. I need a break.”

Your offensive goes on overdrive, “No movies and you are not going anywhere this weekend until you finish up your studying!”

And then there is stomping of feet, slamming of doors, sulking over the two days of the weekend, a cold war. Wednesday has come and gone and test scores have still not got better.

Take this as a sign that your regular pre-test prep talk to your child had crashed and failed and it’s time to adapt a more holistic strategy: an approach that keeps both of you happy and at peace— and of course, brings results.

You might think your teenager if not motivated enough. It is your responsibility to drive them, to bring them in line when they stray. You are right. It’s your job as a parent. And you are even right, that they are not motivated enough. But did you know that a person’s general state of mind or mood is closely related to motivation? In psychological terms, it is a called affect.

Affect basically means feelings, emotions and general moods of a person. Affect is the probable effect a person feels based on the results of tasks and actions they have decided to take up.

For example, in your case, your kid was not in the mood to study, you pushed him further with your offensive tactic and when the actual learning (forced learning) for the test happened, his heart and mind was not in studying.

Couple this lack of motivation with the threat you have issued: No movies and you are not going anywhere this weekend until you finish up your studying. Now you know, you had hit the wall (in fact, the wall was there even before the conversation started) and no matter what you do, you cannot UNDO the damage.

So the next time, when you want to convince your kid to study, maybe try and avoid going over the dark side of confrontation and aggression. You might offer him another option, “Why don’t you finish your studies for the test and go for the movie on Sunday?” A little bit of delayed gratification and a reward for a completed task will ensure you have a peaceful weekend and your kid stays motivated.

The Bottom Line

Constantly staying motivated is a hard enough job for adults. Expecting it from teenagers, especially when they are going through the ups and downs of puberty, is a bit unrealistic. So it is essential to understand the effect of affect on motivation. A teenager in a good state of mind will be driven and motivated to learn.

Series VI – Applications of Behaviorist Principles

White Paper – 1

For teachers: Perks and productivity in the classroom

In the classroom, it is necessary to create a nurturing learning environment to encourage productive behavior among students. Teachers play an important role in determining the tone of the classroom. If your attitude as a teacher in the classroom is open and positive, students would find learning interesting and engaging.

If you consistently motivate your students by way of appreciation and perks, you will find that your students are productive during class. This technique of bringing in classroom-appropriate behavior using perks is technically called as positive reinforcement. For instance, a teacher wants her students to submit a major assignment in time. Reinforcement, in this case would, be the teacher announcing, “If everyone in the class submits the assignment on or BEFORE the due date, we will have a pizza party!”

Positive reinforcement does not necessarily mean only providing rewards. It can be anything that increases the likelihood of reoccurrence of a desired behavior over time. Here are a few ways you can use reinforcement to increase productive behavior in the classroom:

  • Specify terminal behavior. Terminal behavior is the desired behavior you want from your students. You should mention in the beginning of the term what you need your students to do. For instance, instead of giving an ambiguous objective like, “I want you all to learn responsibly”, you might spell out the “responsibly” part more explicitly. So you might ask your students to bring the required books and supplies to the class, submit assignments on time, and participate in class discussions and so on.
  • Ensure that students gain something rather than lose by changing their behavior. More often than not, while doing something, we do a cost-benefit analysis in our daily lives. “If I don’t eat desserts for a couple of weeks, those jeans I bought last month will definitely fit me.” Similarly, even students engage in such analysis. For instance, a student might need to spend six hours of a day in a project to earn an A. Even though an A grade is a positive reinforcement, according to her spending six hours on a single project would be too much.
  • Specify the consequences that might follow with the behavior, whether good or bad. Reinforcements are most effective when your students are aware of the consequences that will result from a particular behavior. For example, as stated earlier, you give them a pizza party when all the students give in their major assignment on time.
  • Provide all students an equal opportunity to earn the reinforcement. Certain times, you might inadvertently end up providing reinforcements to the same group of students. This might happen because that particular group requires more attention than the rest of the class. However, the other students might think that you are being biased. This might lead to a hostile environment in the classroom. To prevent this, you can ask your students to come to you and ask for feedback with questions like “How am I doing?”, “What do I do next?” or let you know about their progress. This way, you will not be focused on only a handful of students.
  • Take away the reinforcement once the required behavior occurs regularly. When you take away reinforcements, two situations can arise: students will no longer require the external reinforcement, they will be internally motivated. Or, your students revert to their previous behavior. In the second scenario, you will need to have an intermittent reinforcement schedule where you will again need to provide reinforcements regularly.

The Bottom Line

The system of providing positive reinforcement works like this: You give an option of “When…then” to your students. “When you finish the math assignment, you will get a timeout of 10 minutes to do whatever you want within the confines of the classroom.”

The students would first complete the task they have low preference for and then take up the more likable activity. It is a barter system: you provide a positive reinforcement to your students and in return you get more productive behavior from them in the classroom.

Series VI – Applications of Behaviorist Principles

White Paper – 2

Dealing with the old “My teenager is getting out of hand” problem

Teenagers can be quite handful sometimes. Your kid tells you he is going to the local library to do “research” for a class project. Two days later, you look at your Facebook newsfeed and see he, in fact, went skateboarding with his friends to the local park! You confront him; he “unfriends and blocks” you on Facebook. Now you have lost another tool to keep track of your teenager’s life.

A typical weekend scenario: You ask your teenage daughter to clean up her room. She is too wise beyond her years. She justifies her messy room as a reflection of the “chaos” in her head. This does not, of course, bode well in your head and you tell her to cut the sass. Things turn nasty, she yells and accuses you of not “getting” her, you yell at her lack of sense of tidiness, doors are slammed, cold war ensues and everything is messy inside out: your relation with your daughter and her room.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk things out with your kid amicably? Rather than having a full blown flare up, how can you both come to an agreement that helps your teenager do away with all the negative behavior and give you peace of mind?

Here are a few ways in which you can help your teenager become more responsible and do away with inappropriate behavior:

  • Explain to your teenager why the behavior is unacceptable. People, specifically teens, like to know that they have control over their lives. When someone, specifically a parent or a teacher, dictates them to behave in a certain manner, their natural instinct is to defy. Instead of falling in a trap of never-ending arguments or just saying “No” won’t just cut it. So treat them like intelligent beings and explain to them why the way they are behaving is wrong. Giving reasons ensures that similar inappropriate behavioral traits are also suppressed.
  • Make them pay penalty for misbehavior. We don’t actually mean that you ask them to pay real money (or you can do that too, if you want to be the “fun” parent). Set up a list of chores if your child misbehaves or a list of incentives if they behave. Sit down with your kid and mutually agree on a set of rules. It might go something like this: if your teenager cleans her room, she gets to decide the Sunday lunch menu at home. If she doesn’t, you could tell her that Sunday lunch would be roasted Brussels sprouts with a side of broccoli.
  • As far as possible, the penalty should immediately occur after the episode of inappropriate behavior. The effectiveness of the penalty diminishes when you delay it. The sooner you ask your teenager to make up for the misbehavior and face the consequences, quicker will be the effect.
  • Teach and demonstrate more appropriate behavior. Penalties are all well and good to a certain extent. However, the only message that you are sending across here is that how not to behave, but you are not exactly telling your teenager what should be done instead. You have explained to your child why a particular behavior trait is undesirable. You ask them to make up for the inappropriate behavior by doing an activity that is they do not prefer or find unpleasant. However, won’t be nicer to let them know the alternative? You can teach them how to negotiate in a way that is beneficial to you as well as to them. When you are firm and yet willing to talk things out, you will find that the difficult issues between you and your teenager become much simpler to manage.

The Bottom Line

It’s not easy for teenagers to keep track of their own moods and needs. This is mostly because of the internal physiological changes that they go through in this phase of their lives. As a parent, your intentions to help them out might be good, but the execution often crashes and fails.

Behavioral changes do not happen instantly. They take time and patience. Certain times, your teenager might go back to their old habits. At times like these, you can set up some ground rules and state them out explicitly. This will let you and your teenager meet each other halfway and solve problems amicably.


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