The positive reinforcement trap


As a family therapist, one of the common complaints I hear is how to motivate children to do their chores. At this point therapists normally encourage parents to use “positive reinforcement”. You know the drill, reward them when they do well or offer rewards to get the minimum done.

A lot of parents resent this advice because they say they should not have to “bribe” their children to do what is expected of them. I find this argument comes up a lot for children who are oppositional and argumentative. These children have already worn out their parents good nature and attempts at compromise. These parents, whether they realize it or not, often are angry at their children and just cannot justify rewarding them one more time. They want their children to listen and they want their children to listen now.

I couldn’t agree more. No one wants to feel manipulated and taken advantage of by their child. However, positive reinforcement does not have to be that way. In fact, if you’re doing it correctly, no one needs to feel manipulated. Positive reinforcement is not just throwing toys, treats, and allowances at children. Often when starting a new positive reinforcement program from scratch it can feel that way, though. It is common to take a child who is not motivated at all and first make then externally motivated and then develop their internal motivation.

Coming up: How to do “positive reinforcement” better.




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