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Challenge: Back to School

Rewarding Kids for Good Behavior: Is it a Bribe or Positive Reinforcement?

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Grade cards just came home from school a couple of weeks ago. The kids made great progress on their reading and spelling grades. You are so impressed. How do you let them know that they have done well? A good job well done deserves something nice, right? So, you take the kids out for an ice cream cone later that night.

Maybe you have join the many Americans who pay their children for good grades on a report card. I don't know the going rate of A's, B's, or C's, but I do know kids love to cash in on the goods. It seems that children in today's society are not motivated simply by the need to succeed. They want gifts and money. In fact, often children expect parents to hand over the goods each time they achieve something new or behave appropriately.

Most people are familiar with the idea of parents giving their children an allowance. I grew up receiving a couple of bucks a week for performing duties around the house. Sure. This helped to motivate me, but so did the thoughts of not doing whatever was expected of me.

I never knew what mom would do if I didn't listen or made excuses not to do my homework. I expected a grounding, but after that...who knew? I, for one, was not willing to find out. Maybe mom wasn't even sure herself, because there was no way in the world I would take the chance to find out.

Children today don't have these worries. They don't concern themselves with disappointed parents, groundings, or the like. Maybe it is something about the new time-out discipline. Kids know that a few moments in the corner or on the time -out chair was worth smacking their annoying little sister.

When children make up their mind to behave and help around the house, they expect to be compensated. With two parents working and single-parent families, the emphasis is often on work and money. Children see this on a daily basis. The materialistic views of society says we do things to get things. The child's behavior is screaming this reality.

Positive reinforcement is a fabulous way to encourage good behavior. But, it can be hard for parents to draw the line between positive reinforcement and bribery. For example, a youngster has trouble sleeping in his own bed. The tired parents are grumpy and desperate. This is the fifth night this week and they want some sleep. It is so easy for mom or dad to reach into the purse or wallet. Waving a dollar bill in the air, the son grabs it and races off to his room for the night. The next morning, the parents are refreshed and aware that this worked. They hope the problem is solved. Then the son returns for dollar number two the following night.

Instead of money, make a chart. Children need to visualize their progress. Instead of waiting for moments of desperation, do the best you can to think ahead. Each time your child sleeps in their bed, goes to the potty, or brushes their teeth, denote this on the chart. Many parents love to choose inexpensive stickers for this purpose.

My children potty trained by drawing smiley faces on a chart. Every dry day earned a sticker. After completing the potty training, they were permitted to pick out their favorite themed underpants from the store. This tactic worked very well.

My son is very motivated by money. You make the mistake of asking him what he needs, he will undoubtedly inform you that he could use a million dollars. His seven-year-old logic has already realized the importance of money. It is important to stress doing the right thing for the right reasons...not for the dough.

It is hard not to promise a $1 toy from the store for good behavior when you have a throbbing headache and are in a hurry, but the child will expect this. This is the time to remind the child that you are in a hurry and don't feel well. The important thing is to teach the child to behave in public because you are the parent and you said so. It can be time consuming and very difficult to teach this valuable lesson. On some days that dollar toy is worth its weight in gold.

Remember the goal at hand. Parents are to teach the child to behave and act responsibly and with respect. Positive reinforcement does not always mean cash, food, or toys. One great way to encourage a child's good behavior and hard work is by telling them how happy you are about the behavior.

The old adage that when mom is happy everyone is happy just might be true. The child will learn in time that if mom is pleased with their grades, responsible attitude, and behavior, that it will reflect in her mood. The child may be given more privileges for good behavior, but emphasize the pride factor.

It is a great idea to remind the child how excited they are to bring home that good report card. Help to give them a sense of self-pride. This is an important life-lesson. Reality tells us that we don't get a pat on the back every single time we brush our teeth, put away our clothes, or do a good job at work. It is rewarding to know that we are doing the right thing.

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