Stickers

So lately as you know, I have been busy tutoring kids here in Korea. The first two weeks were incredibly difficult for me. First of all, I tutor a range of kids from 2nd graders all the way up to 6th graders. For anyone who has ever had to deal with kids this age, you will know that this is that point in their lives that they can’t sit still for more than a minute. For example, whenever I asked them to stop messing around and just calm down, they would stop for a second and go right at it again the second I turned around. Tutoring 2 or 3 kids at a time makings things even more difficult, because I have to micro-manage these kids like Starcraft (sorry for the really lame reference).

But anyways, I was fed up with them not paying attention. I decided that I would figure out a way to get them to cooperate. So I tried two different methods, both of them almost polar opposites. Only one of them worked. I will first start off by telling you what didn’t work for the sake of drama and suspense.

So I first tried to exert my power and try to scare my kids into submission. I tried to always give them mean scowls when they were messing around, slam the table when they were messing around to tell to quit messing around, or even threatening to kick them out of class or tell their parents.

This method failed horribly.

The kids didn’t learn to respect me. Rather they saw me as an authority figure, another adult trying to just restrain them. And of course with this in their minds, rebellion was the only things in their minds. Therefore they would always try to be sneaky and pull fast ones on me behind my back. They would always try to challenge my authority and be little smart-alecks, using wit and a sense of “bratiness” to resist my demands.

After a while I realized that this simply wasn’t working. I then decided to take on another approach which was inspired by my sister, which was using the “sticker system”. So to utilize this system, you simply need a piece of paper and stickers with lines dividing the names of the students. So whenever they listened, were cooperative in class, or participated, I would give them a sticker to reward them. And whenever they misbehaved, I would threaten then take away their sticker on their chart. I promised them when they accrued 20 stickers I would buy them a small present (costing around $1.25).

This method gave me great success.

The kids finally were starting to actually listen to me and actually were much more enthusiastic when it came to the learning process. With the idea of reward instead of punishment, they asserted themselves in their work, trying to work hard towards that prize. See when they had an incentive, they would actually “try,” whereas if they were just faced with punishment they would just want to rebel even more.

These stickers were like the best things in the world to them, more precious than even money. I was first a little doubtful whether the notion of collecting 20 stickers to get something that was worth only $1.25 such as some Yu-Gi-Oh cards or snacks would really entice them to working hard.

However I soon realized that it wasn’t even for the prize itself in the end, but the idea of getting a sticker was to get praise and accomplishment for hard-work. In other words it was the transformation of that “pat on the back” into a tangible thing… the sticker itself.

At this moment I had a small epiphany. The idea of the stickers were a symbol for encouragement and support. When we are given encouragement and support in our daily lives, we work much harder and are much happier whether it comes to school, work, or even our family lives. What is the point of constantly discouraging people and punishing them for things they do wrong? Isn’t it much better to always support them and praise them when they do something right?

I remember being a child and just wanting to be given praise by my parents. Whenever I ran home with straight A’s I didn’t really want money or gifts for my hard work, but rather appreciation for my hard work. However I would always be extremely disappointed when they gave me a nonchalant “good job” and that I was supposed to get straight A’s anyways. And whenever I brought home even a single B, I was punished severely and in the future was forced to get straight A’s via the channels of fear and intimidation.

We should always concentrate in the strengths of people and praise them for it, rather than criticize them for their shortcomings. Being given support is the most empowering feeling in the world, which helps you to work harder towards your goals. However whenever people criticize and put you down, you can’t help but sulk and simply feel discouraged from doing well the next time.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t criticize people at all. I believe strongly in constructive criticism, criticism that aims to help people via encouragement by pointing out things that they may need to work on. For example, a photographer must always get much constructive criticism on his or her work to get better. Images may look flawless to them in their eyes, but without being given suggestions how to further improve, how can they ever get better?

So really try to find the strengths of people and let them shine, rather than concentrating on their weaknesses. By supporting people with your words and actions, they will have the potential to do their best, full of confidence and vigor. However by constantly criticizing somebody without anything better to say, people aren’t given the opportunity to really develop and grow.

Can you constantly criticize and yell at a seed and expect it to grow?  No, you must nurture it with water and let it grow. People are exactly the same except they need love.

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