Acknowledging High Levels

Kerry Weisner has cataloged many questions and answers about discipline on her Discipline Answers blog. Her comments below answer a pressing question from many adults who would like to acknowledge appropriate and acceptable behaviors—Level C and D of the hierarchy from the Raise Responsibility System.

Reflection and self-evaluation are key attributes of the system. By referring to the hierarchy, adults can encourage reflection on the higher, desirable levels. After explaining/teaching the hierarchy, the procedure is for the adult to ask the young person to identify the chosen level.

It is unnecessary and even counterproductive to attempt to evaluate the motivation levels of C (external) or D (internal). However, it can be very empowering for young people themselves to assess their own level in various situations. By becoming consciously aware of the powerful inner feelings of satisfaction arising from Level D, young people often feel a desire to aim for this higher level again. This should be encouraged; yet, effective acknowledgment of Level D requires some further insight.

By definition, Level D refers to motivation that is prompted by taking the initiative to do what is right—regardless of external factors. In other words, the MOTIVATION at this level is a desire to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do without any intention to impress or please another or to avoid some type of punishment.

When parents, teachers, and other adults witness such behavior, they are so moved that they often want to reinforce it. The intention is admirable because the young person may not consciously be aware of the decision to act from this highest level. How is this accomplished? How does an adult encourage repetition of such admirable motivation?

The answer is by the adult's own modeling of reflection. This can be as simple as the adult saying, "I wonder what level that was on?" Without an understanding of this important point, adults may revert to external approaches by giving praise and rewards that promote external motivation—Level C, rather than Level D.

The point to remember here is that external rewards change motivation. Research studies consistently show that if Level D motivation is repeatedly reinforced with Level C-type recognition, there is a greater likelihood that in the future the child's motivation level will actually drop to that of Level C. For example, studies show that children rewarded or praised for demonstrating caring and kind behavior will actually exhibit less genuine caring and kindness in the future, which of course is not what the well-meaning adults intended at all. Therefore, in order to effectively reinforce Level D motivation, the adult should simply prompt the child to reflect on his or her level—thus bringing attention to it. As mentioned above, the adult begins by prompting reflection, but instead of waiting for a response or engaging in further conversation, the adult simply asks the rhetorical question, "I wonder what level that was on?" or catches the child's eye, smiles, and walks away. This leaves the youngster to reflect on the highest level and experience the positive and powerful feelings inherently associated with Level D motivation.

At first, merely modeling reflective questioning doesn't seem like enough for many people who are accustomed to reinforcing desirable behavior by external manipulatives through praise and rewarding. New approaches often feel odd and uncomfortable at first. Yet, people who truly want to encourage more consistent higher level motivation and resulting behavior will take a leap of faith. They will start by reflecting on their goal (Level C–obtaining obedience or level D–promoting responsibility). They will model their own behavior accordingly and will prompt those they are trying to influence by asking reflective questions for further self-evaluation.

More information on this topic is available at