"Do You Train Kids, Too?", Part 1

You might be surprised how many Training clients ask me this (or, "Do you train husbands?"). Although they usually mean it in jest, I have used the same principles with children and even myself. 



For a number of years, I volunteered at church with a class of Kindergartners. When our senior teacher moved to fill another position, leading the group fell to me. That year, we had a particularly lively bunch of children who struggled to sit still for a short presentation held weekly. One week, I finally grabbed a fanny pack and a baggie of cereal and decided to bring dog training concepts to bear on the problem. I sat amongst the children and anytime I saw someone sitting still, I handed them a piece of cereal. The other children noticed and wanted one too. It was so funny to see their eyes follow the treat and then cut back to me with a look that said, "see? I'm sitting still too!"

Over the weeks, I expanded the rewards to include games. We had competitions to see who could freeze their body and mouth the fastest. They got so good at that one that I often couldn't determine a winner! I also handed out rewards for paying attention, acts of kindness, and listening quietly while directions were given.

A year or two into my treat-bag experiment, I started using the rewards (still mainly pieces of cereal, but also sometimes a mix that included dried cranberries or broken pieces of cookie) to help the children with their memory work. Our program revolved around Bible memorization and being Kindergartners, not many of them could read. Unlike the older classes, the children weren't able to study the verses on their own let alone memorize them. 

I remember one child in particular that I worked with nearly every week. J was a very shy child. She would look you in the face, but words were few and very quiet. She wasn't a natural at memorization and the whole process was made more difficult because talking wasn't high on her To-Do list. 
I already had a protocol in place for helping the children learn their verse(s). We used a fill in the blank style structure that got progressively harder with each repetition as the child selected one or two words to erase from the verse written on our chalkboard. Although they couldn't make out all the words, we pointed to them (and the blanks) during every read through. About the time J joined our class, I added a verbal marker and the treat bag to our memory game. Each blank spot marked a challenge for the child. If they recalled the correct word, they got a, 'Nice!' and a treat from the bag. Of course, they stumbled at times, but we worked through it. Eventually, they would hear three or four 'Nices!' in a row before receiving a treat. The consistent, generous, encouraging, verbal feedback (especially in the places they struggled) was helpful for them and I think it also gave them confidence to speak.

Sadly, my memory is fuzzy and I don't remember all the details as sharply as my behavior-geek brain wishes. What I do remember, though, is how J came out of her shell. She never became one of our Live-Wires, but she grew more talkative both during memory game time, and throughout the rest of the class. She wasn't as...pushy as some of the other children about making sure I saw her "clickable behavior," but she enjoyed the little treats I gave and we saw progress.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2: Training Myself.