The results are in!!
To all of you who submitted your topic preferences, thank you, the feedback was overwhelming.
The sub-topics listed under the ‘CHILDREN’ category were voted on as follows:
Sibling Rivalry: 10%
Given the results, this time around, the focus will be ‘Consequences and Rewards’.
Often families come and see me when parents are at their end with their children’s behaviors. I hear things like, “I don’t have anything more I can take away from him/her as I’ve already taken it all”. They discuss how even minor everyday tasks are major struggles; like getting their child to brush his/her teeth, bathe, get dressed, etc. But most commonly, parents describe feeling completely and utterly exhausted.
So…if this sounds familiar, I assure you, you are NOT alone!
What I have found is that parents who implement and stick to a consistent method of consequences and rewards (which essentially means “structure”) discover not only that their children’s misbehaviors are eliminated, but that the conflict ceases, there is more time in the day, children actively begin to elicit positivism and independence, and most of all, I witness parents really like their children again.
What we know is that when children misbehave, parents often (I would even safely say almost always) react. What we also know is that when children do what they are supposed to do (like come down for dinner right when they are called), parents often do not react. Translated to a child, misbehavior gets attention from parents, where doing what they’re supposed to do, does not. This then leads families into a cycle of their child acting out, disobeying rules, etc. followed by parents reacting punitively either through yelling, taking belongings/privileges away and/or grounding for months. The child therefore learns that in order to get attention, they must misbehave. After all, when they do what they’re supposed to, no one notices. Moreover, they establish that bad attention is better than no attention.
This notion of consequences and rewards has really nothing to do with negativity and everything to do with reacting to your child when they do something positive. Essentially, doing this teaches your child that behaving and cooperating gets them attention, not the other way around. All children love receiving rewards and so receiving consequences essentially means no rewards are earned.
Rule #1: Only attempt to change ONE problem at a time. If you have difficulty with getting your child to brush his/her teeth, bathe and get his/her pj’s on, do NOT try to change all three at once. Choose teeth brushing and focus on that until it’s been mastered and then add a second challenge. Note that getting your child to brush his/her teeth has probably been a struggle for some time, therefore do not expect that it will change overnight. It might take weeks.
Rule #2: Rewards do not have to be a financial burden. Often children really desire special time with their parents. Perhaps an extra book before bed, or a bike ride with dad, even a five-minute increase in their TV/computer time all work well. Choose something that will motivate your child.
Rule #3: Rewarding may feel like bribing, but hey…if it works, I say, do it!
Rule #4: Rewarding needs to happen somewhat immediately so that the child can make the connection between doing something right and receiving praise and rewards. Moreover, if the child comes down to dinner on time, immediately they are praised and told that tonight they get five extra minutes on the computer. I often meet parents who promise their child a bicycle if they behave at school everyday until the end of the school year. Firstly, this negotiation is impossible. No child can commit to perfect behavior. Secondly, such a negotiation ignores all the days that the child did behave. Thirdly, the reward is way too far in the future to have effect. What results is parent’s reacting to the child not behaving well at school everyday and no bicycle is rewarded. The message to the child is that he/she failed, but if you think about it, the negotiation set them up to fail.
Rule #5: Set your children up to succeed. You want them to get rewards…that’s the point of this.
Let’s walk through an example.
I work with a family who has a son, 6, and a daughter, 2. Their son, as they describe, is a “nightmare” and “never does anything he is suppose to”. He refuses to brush his teeth, get dressed or eat breakfast in the morning before school without an upheaval. Parents describe engaging in yelling and screaming behaviors, repeatedly checking in on him, reminding him with demands that tasks need to get done and threatening and denying privileges. They also explained that their morning routine makes them resent their son and feel angry at him “all the time”. They stated they expect him to be trouble and therefore feel on edge whenever he is around. I told them that their son was well aware of their feelings.
Parents also informed me that their son knew how to do all of these tasks perfectly well and that on a rare occasion, would get these tasks completed. I asked if parents had ever reacted to their son when he did do these tasks. They responded, “no”, stating that they didn’t feel they “needed to acknowledge their son when he did what he was supposed to do”. I then explained that in here lies the problem – they react only when he’s not cooperating and never when he is.
This example illustrates the pattern of attention their son has learned to seek out. His parents have taught him that they will react (give attention) to him only when he misbehaves. I gave them the challenge of eliminating their entire morning upheaval and working solely on tooth brushing with their son, accompanied by praise and rewards.
I went to their home the next morning with my toothbrush and asked their son to teach me and his parents how to brush our teeth as I had heard he was the tooth-brushing king. With ease, he accepted the challenge because he thrived being in control and having attention (note that this was also an age-appropriate comment). We sat on the edge of tube for ten minutes as he showed us the ins and outs of tooth-brushing. Though he did get distracted at times, I gently redirected him by simply explaining that I didn’t think my teeth were clean enough and that I had missed some parts. He was able to refocus himself and continue on the task at hand. When we were done I praised him for being such a good teacher and his mother had made a certificate which he stuck on the bathroom wall. He was proud. Such positivism from his mother had rarely been acknowledged. His parents then explained to him that every time he brushed his teeth he would receive a certificate (morning and night), and that two certificates a day would earn him a game of catch with his dad (which he loved). They also indicated that not getting two certificates a day would mean that he couldn’t play catch with dad, which would result in an earlier bedtime (which he hated).
The lessons learned:
Lesson #1: If, at first, your child takes a while (ten minutes) to complete a task (tooth-brushing), then the task needs to begin earlier (ten-minute earlier wake-up and bedtime for tooth-brushing) so that the child can earn success and fighting against the clock is eliminated.
Lesson #2: If you show/tell children that they are special, through positive reinforcement (i.e. “tooth-brushing king”) you are likely to hook them, especially if they are rarely acknowledged in this way.
Lesson #3: Making changes might mean that you, as parents, initially need to accompany your children through tasks. For this family, mom or dad had to sit and brush their teeth with their son for one week. Once he could master this and no fighting was had, parents created a new tooth-brushing goal that their son brush on his own accompanied by a timer and then come and show parents after it was done. The reward was then given for achieving this goal. The next goal was brushing in a shorter period of time. After this was mastered, getting dressed was introduced while staying consistent with tooth-brushing.
Lesson #4: Baby-steps…make subtle shifts in everyday expectations so your child can experience success and not feel overwhelmed.
Lesson #5: You must follow through with rewards. If your child did what they were supposed to (tooth-brushing morning and night), playing catch with dad should be had. If dad comes home late that evening and can’t play, then another reward must substitute.
Alright….so get started.
Tell your children that they are great and show them through rewards.
Be patient and consistent.
Send me your feedback so I can help out with specifics.
Kyla’s column will appear on urbanmoms.ca monthly. If you have
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Disclaimer: The advice given by Kyla are merely
suggestions for addressing personal problems/situations. It is not
guaranteed to ensure change or success, as there are many ways to
address the questions posed. Be advised that implementing Kyla’s
strategies and following her suggestions is done at your own
discretion. Kyla is not responsible for any outcomes that may come from
following her advice.
This was a great article. It is so hard to remember to focus energy on rewarding the things our kids are doing right. With two little ones I feel I’m in a constant struggle to get them to listen to things I’m asking them to do. I have been trying harder not to escalate (or increase my voice level) so quickly. A friend reminded me to “collect” my children – go to them and ask them to do something rather than call out or yell for them to do something. Hard to do after a long day at home together, but something I’m working harder on.
I agree – a great reminder. I do try and reinforce the positive things that my 2 y.o. does, but we still have many …ahem…tantrums. Probably the age, I know.
Here’s my request: many of these articles (not just Kyla’s) deal with issues in a more general spectrum. But different ages require different approaches. I would love it if articles such as these could be broken down into different age groups. May not be possible due to space but it would definitely be helpful.
Kyla, this is always such a great reminder. It’s just soooo easy to fall into the trap of only reacting to bad behaviour – and reacting negatively. One of the best things I ever did with my older daughter was to have a reward chart…we had 5 simple things she could do to earn stars, and 5 simple things that would cause stars to be taken away. We made the chart together and agreed on what the 5 things would be (simple, like putting dirty clothes in the hamper at the end of the day). At the end of a week, she only needed 20 stars to earn her reward, so that gave room for her to have a bit of bad behaviour (as you so rightly point out we can’t be perfect) as well as to choose NOT to do one of the good things once in a while. I felt it was important for it to be achievable and to still allow her some choice. She did GREAT and has since asked to do it again. Her 4 year old sister, on the other hand, wasn’t ready for it yet!
Anyway, thanks also for pointing out that these turnarounds take time, and that the best reward for our kids is TIME WITH MOM/DAD. Our lives are soooo busy (well, mine is, anyway) that it’s very, very difficult to invest time in our children. Far easier to invest money (here’s a gameboy…go play it over there while I do some work).
Now, if only your next article could tell us how to get 4 more hours in each day we might be able to do all these wonderful things, LOL 😉