Positive Reinforcement for Children
This week my children began swimming lessons for the first time. While my six-year-old loves the water and eagerly anticipated Monday’s arrival, my four-year-old son did not share her enthusiasm. After what can only be described as his discovery at the age of three that people sink, he avoids not only pools, but also hates having his face and hair washed. I know as a parent, however, that I needed to move him forward and teach him the water safety skills he should know.
The first day was uneventful. Both children got in the water with their class, and both seemed to have a wonderful time.However, my son simply avoided most of the activities. Time to float on his back? Dancing in the water sounded better to him. The entire class blowing bubbles? He kept his head just above the water and blew ripples instead.
Wanting him to get the most out of a six day class as possible, I opted for one of my favorite parenting tricks – positive reinforcement. I admit that I most often call this bribery, but what makes it different is this: I am not providing special treats for daily behaviors that have come to be expected. Instead, I am providing a reward for hard work towards a positive goal.
Ready to try a little bribery, er, positive reinforcement with your children? Here are some things to keep in mind:
Choose an Incentive Your Child Values – While my daughter would jump through rings of fire for a sticker on a chart, my son wouldn’t even potty train for a new puppy. It is important to choose a special prize that your child will actually want to work towards earning. In our case, my son agreed to five extra minutes on his electronic learning system for each new activity he tried in class.
Don’t Reward for What Is Expected – While putting in place an incentive system is certainly a valuable parenting tool, teaching children that they should be paid in some way for what is simply appropriate behavior might be a recipe for disaster. I certainly would not have rewarded my little guy with anything more than verbal praise for the fact that he was polite and responded to his teacher when spoken to. That is expected. It is going above and beyond that deserves a higher reward.
Consider Using a Chart or Other System – Different systems work for different families, so simply try a few to see what your children prefer. Some kids enjoy the visual of seeing coins filling up a jar or stickers covering a chart, while others prefer to see a peg moving forward towards a goal.
Be Sure Your Child is On Board – When I proposed a reward system Monday night after seeing my son avoid new tasks in his lesson, he literally jumped for joy. He went to class the next day excited to work towards his goal!
Follow Through – One of the toughest aspects of parenting is being responsible for following through. If you provide your child with the option to work for a specific incentive, be sure that you reward him in a timely manner when he has reached his goal.
Have you tried positive reinforcement in your home? What works best for your family?