Programs for modifying kids' behavior typically have carrots and sticks -- in other words, rewards and punishments. Some children work well under a program offering only rewards. Bunnies find carrots well worth the effort to follow the rules and modify their behavior, but not all bunnies find carrots attractive; some prefer a snack of lettuce. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that punishment motivates some children to follow the rules, but advises that "rewarding success and providing encouragement is always much more effective."
Rewards programs work best when the system has a clear set of rules for children to follow. Robert Melillo, senior research fellow with the National Institute for Brain and Rehabilitation Sciences, in his book, "Reconnected Kids: Help Your Child Achieve Physical, Mental, and Emotional Balance," encourages parents to involve children, even preschoolers, in setting down household behavior rules. Children are more likely to display appropriate behavior when they understand the reasons for the rules, and they understand best when parents talk about what may happen when the rules aren't followed. A written list of rules eliminates any confusion by children or adults. Develop a list with drawings or pictures of good behavior to help young children use the list as a reminder.
Develop a good personal relationship with your family so your child wants to please you with good behavior, but understand that peer pressure and the lack of information or life experience can sometimes lead your child to behave in a way that disappoints you. A reward system helps define appropriate behavior and also helps your child resist pressure from other children to behave badly. Changing behavior with a rewards system means selecting rewards your child views as something attractive and desirable. The Fairfax County Virginia Office of Special Education Instruction recommends involving your child in setting up the reward system for better results. Not all bunnies in the same family have the same view of what makes a tasty carrot, so your reward system might need cafeteria-type rewards geared to each bunny in the house.
The hierarchy-of-rewards system recognizes that some behavior takes more discipline than other actions. The hierarchy system gives the child a small reward at the end of a short period of time, and then increases the rewards when the child follows the rules or makes an effort to do certain actions listed on the behavior list over a longer period of time. Early rewards might include extra time to do what the child enjoys, such as more time for outdoor play or computer games, while the reward for a week or month of good behavior may be a trip to the movies or a visit to the beach with a friend.
A calendar as part of the reward program helps influence your child's behavior. Younger children need shorter periods between receiving the earned rewards, while teens have the ability to wait longer to earn special rewards, according to The Children's Trust, a family information service of Florida's Miami-Dade County. Some bunnies need a tiny carrot as an immediate reward for good behavior to help establish a new family reward program.
- The Children's Trust: How to Use Rewards and Discipline Effectively
- American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren.org: Chores and Responsibility
- Fairfield County (VA) Department of Special Services: Positive Discipline -- Dealing with Challenging Behaviors
- Robert Melillo; Reconnected Kids -- Help Your Child Achieve Physical, Mental, and Emotional Balance
- KidsHealth: Nine Steps to More Effective Parenting
- Ohio State University Extension: Ohio State University Fact Sheet -- Rearing Moral Children
- Tufts -- New England Medical Center's Center for Children with Special Needs: Sample Home Rewards
- University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine: Common Behavioral Problems in Toddlers and Young Children
- University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line: Consistency -- The Key to Well-Behaved Children
- Dynamic Graphics/Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty Images