Reward, Ignore, or Punish?


As a parent you have three main choices regarding discipline:

1. Reward the behaviors you want to see more of

2. Ignore the annoying behaviors if there are no safety concerns

3. Punish the negative behaviors that, due to safety concerns, need to stop


Today’s post will focus on rewards. I will follow up with a post for ignoring and for punishing.

When you use rewards, they should “fit” the behavior you are rewarding. The way to make rewards meaningful is to have your child assist in developing the rewards master list. In other words, have them write a list of all the things they enjoy and would like to receive more of. There should be a range of free to moderate items on the list. This is where I noted yesterday that it can feel like you are bribing your child to do what is already expected of them. The idea here is to start with external motivation and move toward internal motivation. 

Many parents have a hard time properly following with this approach because it adds to their to-do list and let’s face it, most parents do not need one more stinking thing to do, right? However, the research in undeniable: this approach does work best if used systematically. 

Kids always want to put big-ticket items on their weekly reward list. I would too if I could get away with it. Usually you will not be working with big-ticket items. Think more in terms of: picking a dvd from Redbox, renting a video game, letting them pick what to have for dinner one night a week,”coupons” to turn in for a desired item, going to a skate park or roller rink once a week…this list truly could be endless based on the age of your child. What will make this list work is to determine what will motivate your child and give them the ability to earn  rewards THAT THEY FIND REWARDING. If your child does not to read, adding story time as a reward will not work. 

It is no secret that children do not like to do chores. I know that I did not like having to do chores and chances are, you probably didn’t either. We all need a little external motivation to get us going. To put it into adult perspective, if most of us were not “rewarded” with a paycheck, most of us would stop going to work. It is the same for children. None of us REALLY want to work for free.

As you fall into a routine, it becomes easier to switch to less obvious rewards and motivators like very specific praise (please avoid “good job” as that loses all meaning when applied to everything). Smiles, high-fives, and never under-estimate the impact of a parent saying thank you to their child. Encouraging words, head pats, and acknowledgement of a job well done become motivating and helps children internalize their sense of pride. Self-pride, a sense of accomplishment, and self esteem become the reward.


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