When positive reinforcement works best for kids

Judy Willis, MD, MEd Neurologist, shares advice for parents on when positive reinforcement works best for children, but she argues that it ultimately comes down to the individual child
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When positive reinforcement works best for kids

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As parents we often wonder when we should encourage our child, when should we be a fan and celebrate their successes. When should we let them work a little harder before we make any positive reinforcement. How do we know when we should be encouraging them and praising them, and when to be stepping back. It's really different with each child. There is no neurologic evidence on scans that one approach is right for all. Just like with puppies, sometimes you need to do one, and then another. Kids' brains are different. Exactly the way a video game works, which is, levels of intrinsic reinforcement. There's no prizes in a video game when you get from level to level. It's not external motivation, it's internal. The brain gets pleasure when it gets recognized that it's made an achievement. As parents, we can let kids know when they've made an achievement. That's what we can do that is very valuable. The brain will get pleasure only when it knows it's achieved something. Being specific in your praise is much more significant than prizes and money. Letting kids know, "Look what you did," specifically. "You wanted to learn a few more spelling words than you did last week. You did. You started on Monday, instead of Tuesday. You achieved that goal that we talked about last week. Do you realize that is pretty impressive. You are on your way." Helping them to see what they see in a game, that they've made progress at frequent intervals. Parent praise is the way to do it.

Judy Willis, MD, MEd Neurologist, shares advice for parents on when positive reinforcement works best for children, but she argues that it ultimately comes down to the individual child

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Judy Willis, MD, MEd

Neurologist

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa as the first woman graduate from Williams College, Judy Willis attended UCLA School of Medicine where she was awarded her medical degree. She remained at UCLA and completed a medical residency and neurology residency, including chief residency. She practiced neurology for 15 years before returning to university to obtain her teaching credential and master's of education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She then taught in elementary and middle school for 10 years.

Dr. Judy Willis is an authority on brain research and its applications regarding learning. With the unique background as a parent, neurologist, classroom teacher, and neuro-educator she writes extensively for parenting magazines and professional educational journals. Dr. Willis has written six books for parents and educators about applying brain research to parenting and teaching.

Dr. Willis is on the adjunct faculty of the Graduate School of Education, University of California and gives presentations to parents and educators nationally and internationally about how to help children learn joyfully and successfully. She is on the Board of Directors of the Hawn Foundation, dedicated to helping children improve academic performance and acquire vital social and emotional skills. In 2011, she was honored by Edutopia, as a “Big Thinker on Education”.

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