Whenever possible, Matt and I lean towards natural consequences for a child’s behavior. Being kind and generous makes other people feel good about you and therefore want to spend time with you and do more special things with you. For a somewhat extreme example on the flip side, when Lyle threw a fit in the car tonight and threw off his boots and then was extremely rude in the way he asked us to put them on – which he knows how to do – he was given the choices of: a) putting them on himself b) asking us politely for help, or c) walking to the house in just his socks (it was 10 degrees out and snowy). Well, you can guess what he chose: by the time he got to the house he was hollering for us to get that door open because it turned out to be rather chilly on his feet. I can guarantee that he won’t make that particular choice again.
However, when the usual strategies of natural consequences and processing things with the kids don’t work, we are firm believers in positive behavior charts around here. We don’t do negative reinforcement – or, I should say, when things get really bad and we feel the need for things like Time Out or separation of kids from each other – we realize that it’s time for a positive reward system.
What is most important about these, I believe, is simplicity. You want the child to feel successful, so it cannot be overly complicated or stretch out too long. It is critical that the reward be for just one specific behavior that is achievable (think child development here, e.g., you wouldn’t want to create a chart for using the potty for a 1-year old, no matter how much you loathe those diapers). The reward must be concrete, as well. That’s not to say that it has to be a toy or other concrete object, but just make it as clear as possible to the child what the reward will be.
To that end, Matt and I have begun to create basic reward charts on the computer. We grab an image from Google Images that shows the reward that’s been discussed. This week it’s the promise of a pizza with Daddy when I’m away next weekend, and so each chance to earn it looks like a slice of pizza. We leave these next to the boys’ seats at the breakfast table so that they can put a sticker on one spot the morning after it’s been earned (we do it the next morning because Dr. Freud Lyle’s working on going to sleep without screaming endlessly about wanting to sleep with Mommy so we can’t give it to him before bed). We try to time them so that the kids can earn one sticker per day and end up with a reward over the weekend when we have time to provide it.
(Note: the sky’s the limit when it comes to the rewards, but I will say that most kids are happiest with a reward that involves time with you – whether it’s sharing dinner at the pizza place, reading an extra story at bedtime, extra alone time with a parent on Saturday, etc.)
I was particularly impressed with the ones Matt made tonight, pictured above. I love how he put the target behavior in quotes, so that it gives the child a real sense of success.
If you have a child at this stage, what works for your family?