585. The Positive

When some things are going wrong enough, it’s easy to forget that some other things are going right. But there usually are things going right, even if they’re hard to notice in the middle of a crisis. Ignoring what’s going wrong can make things worse; problems shouldn’t just be swept under the rug. But what’s going right deserves attention, too, and a well-timed kudo can go far towards solving a problem. If all the attention goes to the crisis, then anyone who really needs attention is going to be tempted to join the crisis.
I think this is true for both those who create problems and those who try to find solutions. A child who senses that misbehavior is the way to be noticed may misbehave in order to be noticed. And a teacher who expects misbehavior may increase its likelihood by expecting it. I remember vicious cycles I helped perpetuate by coming to work ready to fight them. Both children and I entered the classroom in the morning with chips on our shoulders. We’d try to start the day smiling, but our negative expectations didn’t take long to take over.
Accentuating the positive during a crisis can feel quite fake. And it can be fake. Complimenting a hellion on his or her excellent behavior probably isn’t sincere accentuation of the positive. The first step is to figure out what positive stuff there is that you can honestly accentuate. And that can be awfully hard to do when a child or some children seem to be the reason for all your troubles. Who wants to make someone feel good when that someone seems to be ruining your day or life? Revenge can feel more like the order of the day.
But I’ve seen appreciation work like a charm. A sincere compliment can do wonders. Even a child who is quite used to being reprimanded and who is quite suspicious about praise can glow when she/he gets appreciation that is not just a snow job. The child in a disruptive preadolescent can love that kind of treatment, and maybe work to get more of it.
All of this is easy for me to say; I’m a volunteer dealing with children who don’t make much trouble. And I don’t think that’s just my perspective; other teachers and parents have commented on what a delightful group this fourth grade is. But a teacher who is having trouble with a child or class can also have trouble remembering that there’s anything good to notice. I’ve tried to be positive, thinks the teacher, but there’s nothing good to notice. The negative has GOT to be accentuated. I can’t let him or her GET AWAY with this kind of behavior. And the beat goes on.
So even if a child’s working vocabulary dwells in the forbidden zone,
and his or her behavior sends chills up your spine, maybe something that child says or does provides an opportunity to say something nice. Maybe, despite appearances, the child likes hearing that, and starts to turn around a little. You’ve got to start somewhere.

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