I recently read a book on disciplining children of all ages (disciplining is quite a challenge for parents of young children as I can tell from my own experience!). I didn’t find the book too enlightening so I won’t share too many details here, but one specific paragraph gave me some food for thought. The author was discussing incentives and rewards you could offer your child for good behavior. He then issued a strong warning: never, ever confuse a bribe with a reward. OK, so what’s the difference between the two anyway?
- A reward can be a surprise for GOOD behavior. You notice your child behaving well, and you reward him as a result. E.g. I saw you playing so well with your brother that I’m going to let you stay up 15 minutes later to read an extra story tonight. Kids love this type of surprise! Also, try to focus the reward on the effort, rather than the achievement, so that your child is motivated to work hard at something every time.
- A reward can also be a goal for a planned activity, when you provide an incentive for your child to achieve the goal. In the workplace, that’s called… a paycheck! Back to your kids at home… You can say, IF you put all of your toys away in less than 3 minutes, THEN I’ll take you to the playground for 30 minutes. The “IF, THEN” statement helps your child understand that good behavior can lead to positive consequences.
- Be careful not to overdo rewards. If a child knows you’ll offer a reward for every occurrence of good behavior, the reward will quickly lose its impact. Your child will soon refuse to do anything you ask unless there’s a reward associated with it. A good example of reward overuse is when parents give candy to their kids to potty train them. Unless you have a bottomless supply of M&Ms and are ready to induce diabetes in your child, don’t even think about it! Never abuse the rewarding system and help your child understand that good behavior is expected at all times, reward or not.
- A bribe is a reward for BAD or negative behavior. E.g. If you child throws a temper tantrum in the middle of the store and you promise her some ice cream if she stops, that’s a bribe. It’s very tempting to use bribes to stop the bad behavior, but it will only condition your child to request more bribing in the future, because it works! Bad behavior should always be assigned negative consequences (e.g. removal from the situation, time-out, reduction of privileges, etc).
- Do your best to often notice the good behavior so that your child is motivated to repeat it. The use of praise is appropriate, but it has to be done right too! Look out for an upcoming post on how to praise effectively.
I hope this helps and gives you a chance to observe what you use at home and how well it works. I’d love to hear your success stories (and even your not-so-successful stories, so we can all learn!).
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