Pull this Bandaid off slowly – How to stop reward systems

photo by ngader via Flickr

photo by ngader via Flickr

Am I always going to have to do this?”

Some parents might worry if you start a certain prevention strategy (e.g., bringing books to a restaurant) or a reward strategy (e.g., “Am I always going to have to give her these stickers for cleaning up her room?”), you will always have to keep doing it.

The concern, I think, is these “BehaviorBandAids” (if you will) take too much effort or attention to maintain over long periods of time. Another concern is, “at some point he needs to be able to do this just because and not because he gets something from me.”

I get it…I really do.

The ultimate goal of any behavior strategy is to set the stage for appropriate or desirable behavior so you have as many opportunities to reinforce it again and again with as little error (display of the negative behavior) as possible. If you do it right, you will be able to do less and less over time because the appropriate behavior has been sufficiently reinforced so it will stand on its own.

Think of it as planting a tree.

At the beginning, you need supports for it to grow strong enough to withstand the wind and rain. If you do it correctly, you can slowly remove the supports, letting it stand on its own. Will the tree always need those supports? NO. Will you sometimes have to put some supports back on after a big storm or in preparation for one? YES.

But, PLEASE pull these “Behavior BandAids” off slowly over time instead of the usual “grip it and rip it” trick you would perform on the sticky kind of BandAid you might find on your child’s arm. Unfortunately, parents (myself included) usually resort to the “set it and forget it” version of behavioral programming instead of actually purposefully planning on removing the rewards system quickly.

Once you have experienced some success with your “behavior plan,” “reward system,” or prevention techniques for a decent period of time (this depends on how long the behavior had existed prior to the system being put in place, but generally speaking I want you to have a couple weeks of “awesome” before moving on), start to plan how you are going to fade away.

How to fade your strategy

  1. Increase what is necessary to achieve the reward. Instead of rewarding every time, you can move to every other time, then fade away as success continues.
  2. If you are rewarding the absence of a behavior (e.g. no hitting, no tantrums, etc.) think about increasing the days required to achieve the “prize.” REMEMBER: Don’t go too quickly.
  3. Tell your child…don’t hide it. Make it a challenge. If they buck, no worries. Rely on the power of the reward and ride it out with kind reminders and encouragement.
  4. Remove the prevention little by little. Make them sit a little longer at the restaurant table before getting their books or crayons. Make them ride a little longer before turning the DVD on in the car. Help them get dressed, less and less.


Keep up the praise. Make it more and more natural. Tell them specifically what you like or do not like. Stay away from generic “you did good” and focus on the specific: “I like how you walked away from her when she yelled at you.”

If you do it right, your kid might forget about it before you do.

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