Thursday, July 24, 2014

A bit of galloping

Yesterday I did a presentation to the leaders-in-training at Camp Westwood, a day camp based at the St. Margaret's Centre. I have worked with the kids at the camp for several years. My topic is always the same - how to create behaviour change using positive reinforcement. On the first occasion I got to see them several times for a couple of hours each time. One of the highlights from that year came in the last hour. I had challenged the campers to think of a real life situation where they had seen someone attempt behaviour change or perhaps when someone had tried to change their own behaviour. I asked them to develop a little "play" in which they would act out what had happened and then to redo the 'script' based on what they had learned from me. 

My favorite group of three dramatized grocery shopping with mom, dad and a child in a shopping cart. The child was screaming for things off the shelves and the mother and father had a difference of opinion about what to do. The results were wonderful - the actors captured every nuance of the parent-parent and parent-child interactions. And their "do over" was perfect. It showed me that they understood the effects of punishment, the nature of positive reinforcement, the selection of useful reinforcers and the importance of chaining behaviour in increments.

The last few years I have only had an hour with the kids. I chat about ways to alter behaviour and then I do a demo using a clicker and candy to show how a brand new behaviour can evolve quickly with little to no stress for anyone. Following a debriefing on the demo I hand out clickers and bags of candy and have the kids work in pairs to train one another. There is inevitably a lot of noise and milling about but, on average, about half the kids seem to 'get it'. Following the 'action' session I call the kids back together to talk about what I observed and ask them about their experiences. Then I wrap up, hitting the three points I have been making for the last hour. There's usually an awkward moment or two near the end but the silence is quickly broken by the kids who want my attention just for the sake of having it. 

Yesterday that period brought a new highlight for me.

A girl raised her hand and when I called on her she said "My mom is a speaker."

At this point I was thinking "What does that have to do with anything?"

She went on to say "I know that some people don't like to share their tips but can I share this with my mother so other people can learn about it?"

My response to her was " Of course, our world will be a better place if more people understood what we have been discussing." And then I floated home knowing that that bit of galloping was worthwhile.

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