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It Makes No Sense – Part Three

Not to be copied without permission.

If you have been following the first two parts of this series, you will appreciate that we are at the final part. Now we will explain everything, including those things that didn’t make sense.  To remind you and to summarize, the story was about a 7th grade boy by the name of Leibish Latecomer.  He always came late for davening.  For several weeks, he was given daily consequences for coming late and then there was a period of time in which his coming late was ignored.  His principal and the rabbeim pretended they didn’t notice that he was coming late. 

The focus in part two was what happened on the first day that circumstances made Leibish come on time.  We shared how his principal called him that night and thanked him for making his day easier by coming on time.  That reward caused him to be on time the following day.  The second day that he came on time all he got was a thumbs-up gesture from the principal.  The end of the story was that Leibish continued coming on time for the remainder of his seventh grade year and the entire year in which he was in the eighth grade.  An amazing success story but also one that can teach us lots about this counterintuitive theory and method that works wonders.

The focus in this final part of It Makes No Sense is to explain how this works and to encourage you to try it.  In my experience (used hundreds of times) it works ALL the time with children and with adults.  The issue is how do we deal with negative behavior and how do we succeed in changing that behavior.  The theory is called The Reinforcement Theory and it is much more detailed than just the idea of praising and rewarding good behavior.  Allow me to explain and follow along in our example.  While I am going to try to convey lessons detailed and taught in a whole book just focusing on this theory, I believe that you can get enough information about the theory to apply it correctly and to see wondrous results.

The reinforcement theory can be easily applied, and it has just a few basic ideas. In fact it boils down to one main point and that is that reinforcements, positive or negative, influence behaviors.  This means that people do things again after there has been reinforcement to the first or previous time. 

Now let’s follow the steps that took place with Leibish and apply the theory to the actions taken.

The behavior that we wanted to change was Leibish’s coming late.  We wanted him to start coming on time.  At this point he was coming late and he was being given a consequence each time with something more severe than the time before.  The consequences did nothing to change the poor behavior—his coming late—but it did lots to reinforce the negative behavior.

You may recall that one day he was even rewarded with a trip for a hot chocolate on one of his days of coming late.  That worked the same as the loss of a recess period because it was still a reinforcement.  It makes no difference whether the reinforcer is of a positive nature or a negative nature.  Thus, the title of the articles is It Makes No Sense. 

The bottom line is that by giving Leibish consequences all we were doing was assuring that he would continue coming late.  Therefore, if we wanted to stop his late coming we need to stop reinforcing it.  That is exactly what happened in part two of the test.  Rabbi Moskowitz and the rabbeim ignored Leibish’s lateness.  They made believe as if they didn’t even notice him coming late.  Did that change the behavior?  No!  But that at least the set in motion what would happen if and when Leibish would ever come on time. 

Before we go any further, while I said that this method works wonders, it will only work if you show lots of patience.  For example, in the situation with Leibish, it took many weeks of ignoring his continued late coming without paying any attention to it and without reinforcing it any more.  Is it possible that Leibish would have forever continued his late coming because just ignoring his late coming wasn’t going to change his poor behavior?  Definitely!  However, one thing we know for sure. By applying consequences we will surely not change the behavior and all we are really doing is reinforcing the negative behavior.

Finally, as Rabbi Moskowitz predicted, Leibish did make it to school on time one morning.  That is the behavior that we wanted to have continue and to reinforce.  That was the time for the reinforcement of the positive—of the behavior that we did want to have continue. 

In sticking with the theme that it makes no sense, even if Rabbi Moskowitz would have applied a negative consequence for Leibish’s coming on time and for example he would have taken away a recess period, it would still be reinforcing the behavior of coming on time and it would make it likely that he would continue coming on time. 

In summary, the idea is that any behavior that you want to have continue needs to be reinforced.  Let us stop reinforcing the negative behavior, let us patiently wait until we find just one time that the proper behavior is happening, and let us begin reinforcing the behavior that we want to be repeated.

I would like to conclude with an amazing part of Hashgochoh Praotis.  As I was writing the last part of this article, my computer flashed the arrival of an email.  I stopped and looked at it and I will share it with you, except for the identity of the sender.

The email read: 

Hello Rabbi,

I just wanted to thank you for coming to to teach us parenting skills. I have been trying to put into practice what you said re positive reinforcement. We have seen amazing results and we are very happy about this. Could you direct me to more of your articles on parenting and educating children please? Thank you.


It worked for me, it worked for this parent, and it works for anyone who tries it correctly.  Join the club and see positive results with the help of Hashem!

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  • Susan Metoxen on

    Great series! Thank you for writing this.

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