3 Reasons behavior plans fail and what to do about it.

photo by Matt Erasmus via Flickr

photo by Matt Erasmus via Flickr

Sometimes parents tell me their behavior plan or reward system worked for a little while, but then stopped working. “He just didn’t care about it anymore,” they often say.

I always try to figure out why these things “fail” so I can help the next plan be more likely to succeed. Here is my list of the three reasons behavior plans fail:

1. Too hard to maintain / Inconsistency

Many times, parents are motivated to start a behavior plan because they are finally so sick and tired of a behavior they decide to do something different for a change. So motivated, in fact, they are unrealistic about what they are will be able to feasibly maintain with consistency over time. Obviously, once the newness wears off for the parent, so goes the consistency and attention given to the plan. Fail.

If and when you try to begin something like this, be honest with yourself about how much effort it will take to maintain the rules you have set. Go through the “what-ifs.” Keep it simple. Target one or two behaviors instead of “good behavior.” Make a decision to implement the plan for at least 3 weeks. Do not stop until you have successfully implemented the plan for this time. There is no Golden Pill in behavior management.

2. Rules are not clear enough

Too many times, parents set themselves and their children up for failure by establishing rules that are not quantifiable or measurable. This is a huge mistake. The rules are too flimsy, too easy to be debated, too easy for there to be “grey areas.” This can lead to an almost instant collapse of a behavior plan.

Make sure, when you establish rules, guidelines and criteria for the child, you do it so a stranger could come into your home and follow the plan without missing a beat. Be overly specific about the rules, write them down, make it crystal clear to you and your child. Avoid statements like, “When I say you are done,” “when I say it is clean,” or “if you do a good enough job.” Say, “when all shoes are inside the closet,” “when 4 sentences have been written,” or “if you are dressed by the time the kitchen clock says 8:00.” This will also help you keep it simple, because focusing on too much while being specific enough is very hard to do.

3. Rewards go stale

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard something to the extent of, “he loved the stickers at the beginning, but they lost their power.” Teachers have commented certain kids “do not care about what is in my treasure box” and wonder why those are the students who are not performing as the others.

We all have different things that motivate us one way or the other. BUT, those things change and differ across people. I love pizza, but I do not want it every day. I have friends who hate pizza. I love classic southern rock music, but every now and then I switch over to the top 40 radio station. Understand that as desires are met, the motivation to achieve those desired things goes down. Keep things interesting, change what the child is working for, let them choose, if they change their mind, that is awesome (in this case they are actually telling you what is most powerful to them at the time). Keep it fresh. Stay ahead of them. (Read this post on Competition of Motivation)

Focus on these things and hopefully your new “plan” will have a little more lasting power for you and your children. There are other reasons these things go downhill (you can read the post specifically about “sticker charts”), but these are the major ones.

Let me know about your plans…why they worked, how they worked, or why you think they failed. I’d love to hear from you. Check in with the BehaviorBandAid.com Facebook Page for more!

1 thought on “3 Reasons behavior plans fail and what to do about it.

  1. Pingback: Are you begging your child to cooperate? |

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