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March 2014 | Volume 71 | Number 6
Using Assessments Thoughtfully
Punitive policies—whether for not brushing your teeth or for incomplete homework—are not very effective. Positive guidelines work better.
My wish that my 7-year-old son would take the initiative to brush his teeth coincided with his interest in collecting quarters. Seizing upon this opportunity, I made a rule that I was certain would encourage him to faithfully brush. I boldly announced one evening that it would cost him 25 cents every time he forgot to brush his teeth at bedtime. The echo of my protocol was still bouncing off the walls as he dashed off to what I thought was a good bout of oral hygiene. He rounded the corner with seven quarters, slapped them on the counter, and declared, "There, I'm good for a week." Son: 1, Dad: 0.
Parenting has taught me something about what works—and doesn't—when it comes to conjuring up penalties. Whether at home or school, influencing change in human behavior seems to hinge upon four simple rules, which I call the CARE guidelines. Even the most well-intended penalty often misses the mark on these four rules, and if any one of them is lacking, the penalty loses effectiveness.
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