Give A PrivilegeSo last week I wrote about taking away privileges as a consequence of misbehavior. This week I'm writing about the natural counterpart to that method, which is basically a reward system. The one thing we have to be really careful about here is not to confuse rewards with bribes.
What is the difference between a reward and a bribe?
There is a very clear difference in the intention, and your child will know it. A bribe happens when you, the parent, have lost control of the child's behavior, or have forgotten the value of helping your child become a disciplined person. Once a child becomes accustomed to being bribed (and it doesn't take long), they control you and your behavior. That is not a happy situation to be in.
On the contrary, a reward system used properly will simply reinforce the behavior and values you wish to teach your child. It should not be your first method of discipline. Toddlers and preschoolers need to learn the behaviors that are expected of them and to respect the authority of parents and other caregivers. Methods such as Time Out, Magic 1-2-3, Setting limits & rules, and redirecting behavior are much better methods to use with young children because they establish authority. Young children have a natural desire to please the adults in their lives and this desire should be nurtured before the idea of rewards comes into their life.
What's natural should come first.
As a child approaches school age a reward system becomes more appropriate, but it still should not be over used. Some rewards are natural just like some consequences are natural. For example, doing something nice for someone brings praise or a return kindness. Performing a task or doing a lesson well in school results in a good grade. In the same way children should naturally learn that good behavior results in benefits to themselves, like good relationships and more fun. In some cases the natural rewards of happy relationships are all that is needed to keep them behaving well.
Some children have more trouble than others to learn self control and appropriate behavior. Some children are more headstrong, stubborn, persistent and energetic and these qualities may serve them very well later in life, but get them into a lot of trouble early on. These are the children who may need a specific reward system to help them learn self control and respect for others.
My youngest son was like this.
He's a really good kid and always had perfect behavior at school and at other people's houses. However, going to school and being away from home was really stressful for him so all of his anxiety & frustrations would come out at home. In order to deal with this when he was about 7 we created a behavior chart and showed him how he could earn points toward getting something he really wanted. This worked like a miracle for us, and it was good for him because it was clear and obtainable.