Do you use the 4:1 ratio when giving praise?
According to Aubrey Daniels, “By definition, the 4:1 ratio is four positives to one negative. What many don’t understand is that in order to shape the behavior you want, you must provide enough positive reinforcement for that behavior to become consistent. This is a great tool to use in business, sports, and even at home.”
This concept centers around the idea that you should deliver praise four times more frequently than a correction.
Easy, right? Wrong! On an average day, a child receives at least one hundred behavior-based instructions. Statements such as: put that away, come over here, make sure you finish ___. Adults tend to notice “incorrect behavior more often than the desired behavior, thus providing more corrections than praise.
There are 1,440 minutes in a day, which means that if your child engages in challenging behavior for 30 minutes every day, there is still plenty of time (1,410 minutes to be exact) left to provide positive reinforcement for desirable behavior.
Challenging behaviors don’t disappear overnight. Behavior change takes time, and the 4:1 ratio of praise is one of the many tools that can contribute to that long-term change.
Inflate Positive Reinforcement Using the 4:1 Ratio
Imagine PRAISE as a giant, brightly colored balloon and anytime a correction is given it results in one of those balloons popping. The bigger the collection of balloons, the lesser the impact if one bursts.
The 4:1 ratio of praise vs. corrective statements ensures that a higher rate of positive reinforcement is provided. When these statements are randomly delivered, it could result in a higher rate of criticism and less positive reinforcement.
But how do I increase my delivery of positive praise?
There are four easy ways to monitor your own behavior as it relates to using the 4:1 ratio.
- Make a Plan: Establish a positive alternative behavior. If your child spends much of their day yelling at others, you want to listen for (and reinforce) any time they are using an inside voice.
- Use a Timer: It is much harder to remember to give praise for the length of an entire day; instead, start small. Pick an hour and focus on watching or listening for that positive alternative behavior during that time.
- Self-Monitor: Decide how you will track your behavior. Using two colors of rubber bands worn on your wrist is an easy method for monitoring praise vs. corrective statements. Anytime you make a statement to your child (or student), move the associated color to the other wrist.
- Pair with a Tangible: If your child or student uses another token or point-based reinforcement system, you can pair positive praise along with the delivery of the reinforcer.
As always, remember to use behavior-specific praise to ensure that the receiver knows that you are speaking to them. Additionally, this guarantees that the positive statement relates directly back to the chosen behavior.
Challenge yourself to use the 4:1 rato for an hour tomorrow and see how positively reinforcing it can be for both you and your child.