Behavior Modification Techniques for Children

Balancing rewards and consequences is a very powerful parenting technique.  I discussed how to use Time-Out and consequences here.

I’m often asked what behavior modification technique is best for children.  As is my pattern, I keep my answer pretty simple:  “The one that both you and your child understand, and the one that you stick to.”  The goal of rewards is to reinforce positive behaviors (like a good bedtime routine) and to extinguish negative behaviors (like arguing at bedtime).   Consequences are a helpful tool in decreasing unwanted behaviors.   Let’s make sure that at least half of our energy goes to the reinforcement of behaviors we want more of.

I see many different types of behavior modification programs as I observe a children in their classroom setting.  Teaching children is a very difficult job. This is particularly true when you have a few kids in the group that need additional structure and who benefit from behavior modification programs.  Earning stars, trips to the classroom store, points, stamps are very effective for children who need behavioral changes.

When observing a child in such a program, the first thing I want is for the system to be easily understood.  If it can’t be explained easily, it’s not going to work.  I also look for the plan to be followed to the letter.  If Ted is told that he gets a star for every time he raises his hand instead of speaking out, I sure want to see Ted get that star when he does so.

There is the challenge with behavior modification programs.  They sound good when we set them up, but we must make sure that the program becomes meaningful to the child by our follow-through.  Too often  the programs are set up to fail because we haven’t given thought to just how we are going to follow the plan.

So, keep it simple, and make sure you do your part.

I like special time over buying toys.  For younger children, I like more immediate rewards like a sticker, star or smiley face.  These can then be cashed in for bigger rewards.   I want them to earn the bigger reward by doing the behavior 80% of the time or more.  Do not set it up that the child needs a perfect score to succeed.

Get them involved in the planning of the reward.  Remember that the power in these programs is the reward which reinforces the behavior.  If your son likes cars, get some car stickers and have him make the sticker chart with a car theme.  Set it up where it clear to everyone just when needs to take place for a sticker to be earned.  “If you’re in bed by 8:00 with no arguing, you can put a sticker on the chart.  Remember that you’ll need to brush your teeth and get you backpack ready for the next day before you climb in bed.”  It’s up to the child to earn the sticker, so do not act like it’s about you.  If he earns it, great…if not, “that’s ok, there’s always tomorrow.”   If he earns 4 stickers during the week, he gets special time (games, a trip to the park etc.).  Make sure the special time happens if he’s earned it.

If he misses the opportunity to earn the reward, it’s a bummer for him, not for you.  Do not be more motivated then he is that a reward is earned.

Have fun with these programs as they are just a reward system.  Do not turn them into a battle.

Use your creativity and involve the child.  These programs work…so give it a try!

Good Luck!

William Strong

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