“Teach the bow”

I was recently listening to a Zig Ziglar podcast (3/18/11) and he told a story that is incredibly relevant and fun to think about when talking about parenting and changing behavior.  The story goes something like this:

The famous music instructor Sinichi Suzuki, founder of the “Suzuki method” of music instruction, was widely known for reinventing the way music is taught (and learned).  It was a huge shift in the culture, but produced incredible results, so much we are still talking about it today.  One of the things he was known for was the age at which he started the “instruction:” in the crib!  Yep.  In the crib.  No, he wasn’t teaching chord progressions, but one of the first things he taught was…the bow (not the horse -haired stick used on violins, but the act of bowing as you do at the end of a performance).

What an incredible thought!  Think about it.  He first taught the children, very young children, to do the thing that resulted in applause and cheering…FIRST!  They experienced the incredible effects of accolade.  He primed them to receive the experience and benefits of praise.  From there, everything else was done to reach the point of the bow.  An incredible motivation was taught. These musicians all worked for the rest of their careers to achieve the bow, which resulted in the applause and accolades.  It took more and more to achieve it, but the experience with the bow and the praise was deep and powerful.  Powerful enough to sustain incredible training, work and effort.

Now, there is a lot more that goes into the musical part of the teaching, but this is a lesson we can all take to heart. 

In the behavior analysis world, we call this “backwards chaining,” which refers to teaching the last step of a “chain” of behaviors so reinforcement (praise, etc.) can be achieved immediately.  For example, when we “backwards chain” making a bed, we teach kids the last step (pulling the cover over the pillows), then reinforce that.  We then require the last 2 steps, then the last 3 then all the way back to the beginning  (the messy bed).  Each step reinforced.  

Suzuki knew: teach our kids how to access powerful and motivating things.  Be mindful of the power of praise and use it to your advantage.  Be spirited in your praise.  


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