Praise and Rewards to Motivate Behavior

Praise and rewards are wonderful tools to increase your child’s positive behavior. I can hear the skeptics now: “Do I really have to reward them for doing what they are supposed to be doing?”. Well, no, you don’t have to. You can rely on crossing your fingers and hope they do what they are supposed to, and give consequences when they don’t. However, based on basic behavior modification principles, reinforcing behavior with positive feedback, praise, and rewards will make it increase. (And make your life a bit easier!) We all operate on this principle; we go to work and get a paycheck. We do something nice for our spouse and get positive feedback. We all need and enjoy positive reinforcement.

Remember, any time you are tuned into your child, you are reinforcing what he or she is doing. Therefore, it’s best to give your full attention in response to a positive behavior on behalf of your child. When you see him or her doing something positive, name it. “I really like the way you ___________” or “You did a great job ____________.” Other ways of giving positive attention include eye contact, using your child’s name, and giving a positive physical reinforcement such as a hug or a high five.

In addition to the above positive reinforcement, rewards can also increase your child’s positive behavior. Rewards are particularly good for reinforcing behavior your child may be struggling to display. Start a sticker chart with one behavioral goal. Make sure it is stated in the positive, i.e. getting stickers for “Closing door quietly” instead of “Stop slamming doors”.  Think about what motivates your child. Rewards do NOT have to cost a lot of money, nor should it always be food or something sweet. Children are often motivated by these two things: time and power. Time with YOU is almost always motivating!  Giving your child 10-15 minutes of ONE ON ONE time is a wonderful reward, especially if you have other kids.  Since children are not usually the ones in control (even when they think they are ;)), they enjoy having power when possible. Therefore, having the power to choose something for themselves or the entire family can feel very good… and be very reinforcing!

Suggested Rewards:

  • Walk with parent
  • Board game with parent
  • Select game for whole family to play
  • 10-30 minutes extra TV/computer/video game time
  • 10-30 minutes later bedtime on Fri/Sat evenings
  • Read a book to/be read a book by parent
  • Choose where family goes out to eat
  • 10-15 minutes one-on-one activity of choice w/parent (coloring, playing with dolls, etc.)
  • 1 item from 99 cent store or dollar bins at Target
  • Pick out favorite cereal next time grocery shopping
  • Decide what family has for dinner for the evening
  • Special dessert
  • Pick movie to watch with family

I write about this so often because I truly believe in the power of praise. You might be amazed to watch your child’s behavior change if you commit yourself to praising positive behaviors consistently.

What behavior should you praise/reward?



Behavior Modification: How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m big about behavior modification. I love it! It’s amazing to think the reactions you give others can shape their behavior (this works on pets, kids, and spouses, too!).  Behavior modification, put simply, is increasing the behaviors you do want while decreasing the behaviors you don’t want all by the way you respond. In order for behavior modification techniques to work, they need to be applied repeatedly, consistently, and firmly.

Think of all your interventions (praising, punishing, or simply talking to your child) as ATTENTION.  Interactions that you perceive as negative may be simply attention to your child. ATTENTION is to BEHAVIOR as WATER is to PLANTS. The more attention (water) you give your child’s behavior (plant), the more it will GROW.

What kind of plant do you want to grow, a flower (good behavior) or a weed (bad behavior)? If you want flowers to grow, you need to pay most attention to the good behavior. As those of you with gardens know, weeds grow even faster with water than flowers do!  Therefore, if you pay attention to the negative behavior more than the positive, you’ll have a garden full of weeds (or a house full of chaos)!

It’s waaaay easier to pay attention (or start paying attention) to the negative behaviors than the positive. All too often, children catch our attention once they’ve done something wrong.  They learn this! They learn what works to get your attention. If you start paying attention to good behavior (repeatedly and consistently), they will learn this works best and will start giving you more good behavior.

Most kids want their parents’ attention more than any other thing. Therefore, any time you are tuned into your child, you are reinforcing what they are doing. Eye contact is very reinforcing!! Using their name is very reinforcing.  Think of the Far Side cartoon about what dogs hear…

The same is true for kids… you could be saying anything! All your child knows is that in a world of busy schedules and many distractions, THIS got your attention. THIS got you saying his or her name! This got YOU! So, if it was an undesirable behavior, do your best to refrain from responding to it with the most attention you’ve given your child all day. If it was a minor misbehavior, ignore, and make a note to pay attention to them again as soon as they start doing the right thing. If it was a more significant misbehavior and not one to be ignored, address it briefly, ideally with a consequence, and move on.

Don’t let your PRAISE become “blah blah blah” either! Specifically name what your child has done right, i.e. “That was great the way you _________” or “I really liked it when you __________”.  Some kids will feel it even more if you throw in a high five, a hug, or a kiss. Reward good behavior with special time with YOU.


Published in: on September 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,