An important aspect of maintaining friendships is the ability to reinforce others, to act in ways that make others feel positively. This can occur when students perform well, and their friends and teachers acknowledge their achievements, or when students feel badly, and others try to make them feel better.
Receiving a low grade on a test, being teased by others, missing an all-important free throw, or placing lower than hoped in the school’s science fair are all situations that might cause a student to feel badly about him/herself. Peers can help each other in these situations by offering positive reinforcement, e.g., reminding a friend of her strengths, or trying to engage her in activities where her strengths are on display. Teachers might offer similar types of reinforcement, e.g., asking the student who missed the free throw to teach her peers how to shoot for better percentage, or asking the student with the third place science project to show his work to other classes.
Here are some strategies to help students develop the ability to engage in reinforcing behaviors.
- Emphasize collaboration in the classroom. Provide opportunities for students to learn from each other (e.g. being the “expert” in an area of affinity).
- Have students note each other’s strengths before, during, and after collaborative or competitive activities.
- Stress effort over ability in the classroom, the development of skill over a static evaluation.
- Help students learn to make positive statements by providing suggestions for reinforcing comments about others’ contributions during activities. Allow students to develop their own supportive comments.
- Guide students so that they are able to let another student win or show improvement, or be more competitive during competitive activities.
- Provide special class activities at the end of the day as rewards for exhibiting “reinforcing behaviors” (e.g., 10 minutes of free reading time for making positive comments about each other’s work throughout the day).