We Don't Punish the Behavior We Want To Encourage!

Written by Kathy Olevsky on Wednesday, 04 April 2018. Posted in All About Martial Arts

Comments can make it better or worse

IMG 1207Want to fix it? THINK before you SPEAK!

by Kathy Olevsky

Sometimes as parents, it is so hard to know what is right, what comments will damage and how to encourage greatness. As instructors, we seem to have the same issues. One thing we can all try harder on is to stop making fun of the behavior we actually want them to show!

We tell our instructors we all have a child in class who is constantly spinning and just doesn’t generally do anything you tell them to do. Then, one day, they actually execute a great front snap kick. The wrong comment would be:

“Okay now Johnny if you just did that more often, you might actually get promoted.”

The better comment would be:
“Okay now, Johnny; that is what I like to see, what a great front kick!”

I’m sure parents can relate to this one. Maybe you have said something similar in a snarky voice when they finally cleaned their room.
We also all have that child in class who is generally shy and avoids conversation with others. This usually stems from low self-esteem, or just nervousness about new situations. On occasion they will step up in class or even in the lobby before class when you say hello and they acknowledge you with a return hello. The wrong comment would be:

“Oh, Mary you actually can speak”.

The write comment would be:

“It is great to see you today Mary; happy Wednesday.”

Parents often what their children to emulate adult behavior. The problem is, they just are not always comfortable acting perfectly in every situation. So, if you have encouraged them to go shake someone’s hand about five times and they finally do it, maybe it would be a bad idea to say “Finally, you see, they won’t bite you.”

We have students who come in late for class from time to time. I have heard instructors say the wrong thing:

“Come on George, you are late; hurry, hurry, hurry. Everyone has already saluted in to class.”

The more appropriate comment would be:

“Hey George, glad you made it here. I’ll pull your class card for you, while you get your shoes off. They just started, so we can get you right in class and you haven’t missed much.”

Now every parent has had a similar situation when someone is running late in getting ready for school or karate class or church. If you really want them to get going, it might be best to ask what you can do to help them get ready, rather than tell them 100 times that if they don’t hurry up they are going to be late. One comment has the power to change behavior and the other has the power to make it worse.

In our Dojo, when a student has not been here for a long time, they should be greeted in a specific manner, but there is a more common response.

“Lizzy, we haven’t seen you in forever, it’s about time you came back to class!”

The answer we prefer that our staff uses would be:

“Hi Lizzy, it’s great to see you here. We have missed you. I’ve got your card ready for you and Mr. Maidon will be excited to see you in class!”

As a parent, or even a spouse, if you see a family member who has avoided an activity for a long time, that you think is beneficial, be careful what you say when they reestablish the behavior. If someone starts jogging again (insert any activity, i.e. eating green beans) after a period of not doing it, the wrong comment would be:

“I told you that jogging would improve your health (eating green beans are good for you), but you wouldn’t listen. Finally you are doing something good for yourself.”

Rather than an “I told you so” attitude, perhaps a better comment would be:

“I am so impressed that you went for a jog (ate your green beans). I am super proud of you.”

In our world, we use a theory we call “praise, correct, praise” for when we need to give someone some helpful advice. This is a great method to use at home, as well, if you want the behavior to change!

Instead of “Chloe, I’ve told you a hundred times to pick up your shoes and put them away”; maybe try “Chloe, I appreciate how you made your bed today. How about also picking up your shoes and putting them in your room. It is great how much help you can be to me every day; it makes me so proud”.

In the end, if we all just take a minute and decide what behavior we want to encourage, choosing the right words will become a habit. So, if something is not working for you, it might be a great time to consider how your words are affecting the behavior pattern.

About the Author

Kathy Olevsky

Kathy Olevsky

Kathy Olevsky, 8th Degree Black Belt, has taught Karate with her husband, Rob, since 1979.  She is an active instructor, manager and author in the martial arts.  

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