Encouraging Positive Behaviour

We’ve all been there—it’s the end of a long day and we know that what everyone in the family needs is to be tucked up in bed. Getting there, however, can seem like the a never ending journey. There’s finding the right pair of pyjamas, ensuring the teeth are brushed, scrambling to find the lost tie and the stuffed animal that hasn’t been played with in two months but is suddenly essential, a final drink of water, stories, hugs, another final drink of water and then, as you settle onto the couch for the first time that evening, “Daaaad, I need you…” It’s at this stage that even the most patient among us is tempted to shout up the stairs, “JUST GO TO BED!!” The most patient and the less patient will realise, however, that this very rarely works.

Getting our child to listen and to behave positively can be one of the most challenging parts of parenting. One of the best ways to change unwanted behaviour is to pay attention to and reward the behaviours you want. The most powerful re­ward is praise, which is a social reward. Another social reward is spending time with your child. Other effective rewards are privileges (like T.V. and gaming time, special outings, extra bedtime stories, time with friends) and material rewards such as money, toys, treats, or a Driver’s License. Below are some ideas on how to establish a reward system with your child.

  1. CHOOSE the behaviour you want your child to do and write it down. Begin with a behaviour that is not too hard to achieve. You can then tackle more difficult behaviours. (If you want your child to stop doing a negative behaviour, decide what its opposite is; that becomes the behaviour goal.)
  2. PRACTICE: Break down the new behaviour into small doable steps you can teach your child and have him or her practice the behaviour. Decide on the how the behaviour will be measured—how your child knows he or she has accomplished it.
  3. REWARD: Decide what reward your child likes and how it will be earned (number of points required, etc.). Have the rewards on hand.
  4. CHART: Let your child choose a tracking chart. Fill it out and be clear about what your child must do to earn a move on the chart and receive a reward.
  5. REWARD: Put the chart in a place where they will be easily seen. Be interested and enthusiastic when your child marks the chart.
  6. PRAISE: Praise your child every time you see him/her doing the new behaviour and have him/her note it on the chart.

When choosing rewards, make sure children find the rewards enticing—let them help decide the reward. Some rewards can be small for smaller achievements and some can be larger for significant progress. Make sure the rewards are on-hand and easy to give. Chil­dren earn points to receive rewards by practicing the desired behaviour, setting up a tracking chart, and daily doing the behaviour.

This article was adapted from the Strengthening Families Programme.