Column: Rewarding positive behaviorsMarch 17, 2021
By DIANE BRAUN
Youth First Inc.
Most children crave attention, not only from their peers, but also from the adults in their lives. They will search for ways to be in the spotlight, whether positive or negative, in order to get a reaction from those around them.
Parents should always strive to focus on the positive behaviors they see in their children and reward those behaviors.
How to reward them is often a matter of debate. Should it involve an allowance, a shopping spree, or another costly activity? Not necessarily. For most small children, simple and free gestures are exactly the kind of attention that will make them feel acknowledged and loved.
Personal rewards can involve hugs, winks, high fives, praise and applause. Rewards involving fun activities could include a ride in a wagon, spending time popping balloons or paper bags, piggy-back rides, blowing bubbles together or playing dress up in funny clothes.
Making an effort to spend quality time with children can make them feel special and acknowledged as well. Simple bonding experiences can include pushing a child in a swing, delaying bedtime by an extra 15 minutes, reading a book aloud, or allowing your child to help you make a meal or hold the TV remote. These action-based rewards involving time spent together can help cultivate positive feelings of belonging.
Rewards that involve a small cost and can easily be purchased at a dollar store can be hair clips and ribbons, stickers, coloring books, marbles, comics, paints and brushes, chalk, markers and crayons, or balloons. Rewards like these are easy to keep hidden around the house so you can present a reward to your child when they exhibit positive behavior.
The most important thing to remember is that good behavior should be reinforced right away. Make eye contact and tell the child exactly what you liked. “You did a great job putting the dishes away!” Be enthusiastic and genuine.
If working toward a behavior goal, be sure to acknowledge each step as it is accomplished. When the end goal is reached, that is the time for a more anticipated reward, like 15 more minutes of screen time.
Use of behavior charts is also a good way to show progress toward a goal. Incorporating a particularly enticing reward into the last step on the chart is a sure way to motivate your child to complete the chart. Anticipate inevitable setbacks and encourage your child to keep working toward their goal when they are feeling discouraged.
Once a behavior becomes a habit, rewards can be decreased and new goals can be set. Parents can be more aware of their children’s attitudes and behaviors by asking them what rewards they’d look forward to and using them to encourage new positive behaviors. Learning to be conscious of when and why you give rewards is a wonderful and productive way to show your children the love and affection they deserve.
Diane Braun is a Project Manager for Youth First Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 64 Master's level social workers to 92 schools across 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First's school social work and community programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.
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