Children are generally very needy. They need help with simple tasks, like tying their shoes or going to the bathroom. They need love and affection from their parents. Children need to be entertained. They also need a great deal of attention. One of the most common reasons children act out is because they need attention. A child screaming in a supermarket is just trying to get
his mother or father to pay attention to him. Because children need so much attention, they often won’t differentiate between positive and negative attention. Although positive attention is obviously the better option, children will take any attention they can get.
If a child isn’t receiving enough positive attention at home, through love, affection, and praise, they will seek out negative attention, even if it means getting yelled at or punished. Because of this, positive recognition is extremely important. When a child does the right thing or accomplishes something, they should receive the appropriate recognition. This teaches children positive behaviors and encourages them to continue these behaviors. Eventually these behaviors become second nature and there is no need to reward them. You can instead move on to the next positive behavior you want to encourage.
An example of this is getting a child to do her homework. Usually the last thing a kid wants to do when they get home from school is do more work. However, through having a reward system you can motive her to sit down and do her homework every day, until this becomes routine. A simple way of doing this is that once homework is finished, she can watch 30 minutes of T.V. If she doesn’t do her homework, there is no T.V. reward that afternoon. This motivates the child to do her homework because she knows that she won’t get to watch her favorite show unless it’s done.
Initially putting a reward system in place can be difficult. There may be crying on the part of the child who might be used to watching T.V. whenever she wanted. Now with this system of rewards, he can only watch when he has finished her homework. This will of course cause some initial difficulties. However, after a short time, it becomes routine for the child and she will understand the system. There won’t be a battle every day after school to get her to do her homework because she already knows the reward and consequence. She will be self-motivated to do her homework because she wants to be able to watch T.V. While this system of recognition and reward seems relatively simple, it does require work on the part of the parent or teacher. For instance, if you’re tired after school one day and let your child watch T.V. without doing his homework, the whole system breaks down. Consistency is key.
Children crave structure and while you might feel “mean” for not bending the rules occasionally, it is beneficial to your child to have strict rules and to understand them. One break from the routine can lead to the child wanting to watch T.V. whenever he wants and then you have to build the whole routine up again.
You might notice that this system of recognition has no punishment. There is no yelling or telling the child that he or she has failed. There is no time out. This kind of negative sanction, if used too often, can have negative affects on a child’s psyche, which is very fragile. Instead, through positive recognition and rewards, you can motivate positive behavior and largely ignore negative behavior. If a child doesn’t want to do their homework, to continue with the previous example, they can sit at the table and draw or doodle as they want. But when the time comes that they want to watch T.V., they won’t be permitted to. There is no need to yell or be aggressive with the child. Just enforcing the reward system is sufficient.
One simple way to make an all-purpose reward system is through a sticker chart. A sticker chart is just a grid that children can put stickers on to. When the stickers reach the end of a row, say 5 or 10 stickers, the child gets a prize. The reward can be as simple as an ice cream or an activity that the child enjoys. These types of sticker charts can be used at home or at school. By putting them up on the wall or the fridge, the child is able to see them and be proud of their past accomplishments, while also looking forward to working towards future ones.
The benefit to a sticker chart is that this type of reward system can be used to recognize and motivate any type of positive behavior. Some teachers even choose a behavior of the week, such as sharing, and give out stickers that week when he or she sees students sharing. This encourages all students to share because they also want stickers on their chart. Instead of punishing students who are refusing to share, by rewarding students who are sharing, you both show children that the negative behavior is undesirable and offer motivation to participate in the positive behavior.
This type of recognition can be used to encourage traits such as sharing, responsibility, cleaning up after yourself, punctuality, kindness … the list goes on. At home, a parent can even pick something they are seeing their child do frequently that they would like to change, such as teasing a sibling. Instead of repeatedly telling the child to stop, start rewarding stickers when the
child is playing nicely with their sibling. Soon they will learn that this positive behavior will receive a reward and this will motive him or her to treat their sibling with more kindness. Once this becomes habit, they won’t even feel the desire to tease them.
Although these examples are primarily aimed at younger children, this type of recognition can easily be adapted to motivate older kids as well. Through altering the reward to something that interests them (getting to go to the movies with a friend) and making the sticker chart more age appropriate (including expectations, for example), it’s easy to adapt this for teenagers. Even though sometimes they don’t act like it, it’s important to remember that they are just big kids and they still need and want the same positive attention they did when they were little.
By recognizing when a child is behaving positively and rewarding that behavior, we are able to motive them to do this behavior repeatedly. This also prevents us as adults from having to constantly chastise or yell at children, which can be very damaging. Instead, focus on the positive and recognize and reward good behavior. This will, as time goes on, motivate the child to continue this behavior until it becomes routine.