The Counseling Corner
No parent enjoys constantly warning or threatening his or her child, yet many kids do seem programmed to drive Mom and Dad crazy, at least some of the time. So how can parents encourage good behaviors without shouting themselves hoarse?
Our usual reaction to a misbehaving child often goes toward the side of anger, focusing on the negative and warning, ordering or threatening the child to behave.
Sometimes we issue warnings and threats before the child has misbehaved. A young child may be told, “if you don’t behave at Grandpa’s birthday party today, you’ll be sorry,” while an older child might be threatened, “forget to turn in one more homework assignment and you’re grounded for a week!”
Studies find such warnings, threats and punishments are generally not very effective in modifying behavior. Yes, a loudly yelled order may halt the immediate misbehaving, but it seldom makes a long-lasting difference in how your child acts.
Researchers find rewards are more effective in terms of achieving desired behaviors. This shouldn’t be surprising. As adults, we don’t like being lectured, threatened or punished, but often work harder and look forward to opportunities to do well, be recognized and reap a reward for our efforts. We all perform better when we feel good about ourselves.
Our children respond the same way. For young children rewards that immediately follow the desired behavior are most effective simply because delayed gratification is too abstract for a young child’s mind. Older children, however, are able to look forward to something promised.
Rewards can take a variety of forms. While it can be something tangible, like a new book or CD, effective rewards can also cost nothing. Catch your child in the act of doing something positive and compliment him or her. Or pay more attention to that school work and offer praise when real effort is being shown. Sincere compliments and praise really work, and so do rewards like spending extra time with your child for a special activity, or just granting extra play or TV time for doing well.
Rewards shouldn’t be bribes, but rather a means to encourage positive behaviors so that they become long-term behaviors. To help that happen, don’t reward constantly, since that just makes the rewarding less meaningful. And remember to reward positive efforts, not just final outcomes. Trying hard counts as much as succeeding.
Use rewards correctly and you’ll find that they can be much more effective, and pleasant, than constant shouting, threatening and punishments.
“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals. Learn more about the counseling profession at the ACA web site, www.counseling.org.