We all want our kids to behave well. We want them to do what they should and when they should do it. We want them to earn the spoils of behaving properly. We create some of these “spoils” ourselves in the form of sticker charts, trips to the ice cream shop or dollar bills.
But, are there situations when we try too hard to get our kids to earn what we have arranged? I think so.
There have been many times throughout my work with families when I have seen parents trying too hard to get their child to benefit from some type of reward system they have created. Sometimes it is almost like they are begging their child to cooperate, to earn the reward:
“Please, finish cleaning your room so you can watch your TV show…”
“What can I do to help you earn your trip to the game store?”
“Why won’t you just finish your homework so you can earn your computer time?”
Sometimes, it gets so bad that parents will change the deal right there at the end. Make it easier, less demanding, shorter, more appealing.
If you have read enough of BehaviorBandAid, you know by now I side strongly on the positive reinforcement side of things and even stronger on the proaction and prevention side.
But, if you have done your work by being proactive and by building a positive system around compliance and cooperation, I think there is a huge benefit when the child does not earn the reinforcer. There needs to be a very clear separation between the benefits of following directions and the relative boredom of not.
The objective of the system is for your child to behave in a way you have outlined and taught so they can experience the benefits (whether that is an artificial thing like stickers, candy, or overflowing praise or natural things like smiles, pats on the back, acceptance and gratitude). If you change these things mid-stream, if you beg them to earn it, if you do everything you can to get them to the finishe line, you might not be doing them any good.
You might teach them that the goalposts can be moved after the football has been kicked. You might teach them that if they are initially noncompliant, the rules change. You might teach them that saying “NO” opens more doors that were not previously open or makes things easier than they were before.
This is not about punishment. This is about being OK with NOT reinforcing sub-par behavior. This is about the TV not being turned on today, the Nintendo not being played tonight, dessert not being offered after dinner. This is about saying, “it is up to you” and letting the chips fall where they may.
Now, if your child frequently and consistently does not earn the reinforcers or rewards you have arranged, you have a different problem. Read the other posts. But until then, be OK with the difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Is OK.