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Rewarding Kids’ Good Behavior

Everyone likes to receive positive feedback about something they’ve said or done.  Positive feedback (recognition, praise, and rewards) is a successful behavior modification technique for kids as well as adults.  (Positive feedback is considered a behavior modification technique because it tends to encourage the receiver to repeat desired behaviors or take steps closer to desired behaviors and away from undesired behaviors.)  Some forms of positive feedback are widely successful in a variety of receivers; other forms of positive feedback must be tailored to the specific receiver and his/her individual personality.  We will discuss various forms of parental positive feedback in this blog.

Recognition and praise are widely successful. You might say the following, “Susie, you did a wonderful job printing the alphabet!  You wrote every letter clearly, correctly, and in the right order!  Good job!  I’m so proud of you!”  By using these words, you are recognizing Susie and her accomplishment, and you are praising her for same.  Susie will thus feel good about her accomplishment, her sense of capability will grow, and she will be more likely to further develop her skills with the alphabet.  When recognizing and praising, be specific about what behavior is being deemed praise-worthy.  If the receiver is unclear about what behavior is the praised behavior, the receiver will find it difficult to repeat the behavior going forward.  For example, if the positive feedback has been phrased, “Good job, Susie!” (uttered while pointing at the paper on which Susie had written the alphabet), Susie may be unclear if she’s is being praised for finishing a task, not making a mess with her crayons, or some other “good job”. As to the timing of positive feedback, immediacy is important.  When there is delay, the impact of the feedback is diminished.  However, if immediate feedback is provided, subsequent repetitions can be very well received despite the diminishing nexus in time.  Regarding the location of positive feedback, verbalizing positive feedback in private or in public is likely to be well received.  Public statements of positive feedback have the additional effect of helping the receiver perceive that s/he is successful not only in the eyes of the speaker but also in the eyes of those who hear the positive feedback.   

Widely successful rewards include treats (i.e., dessert with dinner), extra awake-time in the evening (i.e., delaying bedtime by one half hour), getting to do something fun with friends (i.e., going to the slumber party), etc.  Tailored rewards include getting to take accelerated courses, paraphernalia for the sport or activity of interest to the receiver, day trips to locations of interest to the receiver, etc.  It can be easy to reward kids with tangible items (desserts, paraphernalia, etc.); but it is important not to rely too heavily on tangibles.  It can be self-defeating for parents to foster their kids’ perception that all good behaviors have to be rewarded with purchased items.  Instead, rewarding with intangibles is well worth the extra effort.   Does your son love to be outdoors?  Did he just get first place in his science exhibit which focused on photosynthesis?  Take him on a day trip hiking in a nature park near you.  While hiking, discuss the plants you see along the path.  Discuss their internal structures, how they work, etc.  Bring a book along to study the various plant life you will discover.  Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to initiate every idea for intangible rewards.  You may ask your son what he would like to do to celebrate getting first place on his science exhibit.  Perhaps some other intangible may be even more rewarding for him.  When providing rewards, as with recognition and praise, be specific and prompt.  If your son doesn’t understand that the hiking trip is a reward for his first place science exhibit, or if you wait too long to take the hiking trip, the value of the reward is diminished in that it will be less likely to modify behavior (i.e., foster in your son a desire for greater scientific understanding).

Whatever methods you choose, rewarding kids is an essential part of parenting.  By adeptly using the techniques referenced above, you can master positive feedback and help your kids develop healthy behaviors and enhanced skill sets. 

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