Behavioral and Positive Reward System

Behavioral and Positive Reward System - Tedd W. McCauley, LCSW
Philosophy of a behavioral and positive reward system:
To accentuate positive behavior and minimize attention given to negative behavior.

Key Tenets of a behavioral and positive reward system:

  1. Identify for yourself and spouse/significant other what target behaviors you want to change. It is important that all authority figures agree upon what needs to be changed and how. There must be complete consensus or the child will divide and conquer! Prioritize only a few of the behaviors and begin with them. Do not overwhelm your child or yourself.
  2. No system or approach should be followed chapter and verse like a recipe for instant success. Even your favorite cooking recipe gets changed according to your and your family’s taste. The amount you make depends upon how many there are and their individual tastes. The same goes for behavioral and positive reward systems. Put your mark on it. Use this as a guide, not the gospel.
  3. Behavioral Cycle will escalate and gets worse before it gets better. When a behavioral response becomes an established response it is very difficult to change. This will take time and persistence particularly on the part of the parent. Attempting to replace it with a more positive response needs practice and success. Remember the old behavior is habit and does not take into thinking and substituting. This is very hard and frustrating for a child at first and increases their frustration and anger. By remaining calm, consistent, and sensitive to their frustration, eventually with enough practice and success they will experience the positive response as habit and the old behavior/response will be extinguished or cease.
  4. Always remain calm and speak in an almost monotone voice. Avoid power struggles! This will be difficult, but screaming and raising your voice will only allow the child to engage you in their behavior and make it more difficult for them to accept responsibility for it. They will often focus away from their original negative behavior and point to the issues and behaviors resulting from their confrontation with you. You need to remain calm and try to have them re-focus or return to the real issues leading to their problem(s). It is noted that this is very easy to say, but remember the more you as a parent practice under duress, the easier it will get as you experience success.
  5. You only want to teach appropriate behavior not just punish negative behavior. Punishments do act as deterrents, but the child will soon calculate whether to act negatively based upon the consequence not whether the action is right or wrong and what could have been done differently. Consequences are still important but they must always be provided in conjunction with an opportunity for the child to acknowledge what would have been the better choice and how they could do it differently in the future.

Example: A child has a temper tantrum and the parent sends him/her to their room for the rest of the evening. This is a punishment. They obviously know that losing their temper is not acceptable to the parent and that is why they are going to their room. Being isolated from the rest of the family can be unpalatable to the child and may cause them to think about whether or not they want to end up in their room the next time they get angry.

On the other hand, picture a child with poor impulse control, reduced ability to control anger, and low frustration tolerance (quick to anger when frustrated). How is this child going to learn to improve his/her ability to control their impulses, manage anger appropriately, and improve their ability to deal with frustration by being sent to their room?

Teaching behavior involves acknowledging the negative behavior through a consequence too, but it also means providing the child a simple road map that points out positive ways they could have dealt with the situation. These options should be simple, clear, and available for the child to begin practicing and demonstrating immediately. Focus upon the positive! The road map given to them should have more emphasis than the consequence. The consequence should be clear and understood before the incident as a non-negotiable reality if that negative behavior occurs. It should be time-limited and administered without emotion (sometimes easier said than done) and the length should be predetermined and consistent with every time that negative behavior is displayed. In some cases the consequence time length or duration could depend on how the child genuinely processes the incident with the parent.

Road Map Examples: The child can write or draw a picture about what happened. Depending upon the age and skill level of the child, the parent can either then have them write, draw, and/or verbalize what they could have done differently and how the outcome would be if they had done that. They should be able to witness the parent modeling calmness, sensitivity, and patience during this process. The child should begin immediately practicing that calmness during the acknowledgment period. So obviously the child and parent should be past the crisis before attempting this step.

  1. Develop rewards to reinforce positive behavior before negative behavior occurs. These rewards should be simple and tied to what type of positive family environment you are trying to create and maintain. In other words, rewards should not exclusively be purchased. They should also involve and emphasize positive family interactions and relationships, cooperation, and helping each other and just making special time to spend with them in our increasingly busy lives.

General suggestions and examples (add to and develop a list of your own):

  • Time one-on-one with parent(s) without brothers or sisters
  • Time with friends at your house or their house
  • Extended bedtime
  • Netflix movie party with parents or entire family (complete with popcorn and pop, ie. food in the living room instead of only in the kitchen)
  • Ability to have a friend stay overnight or stay at a friend’s house all night
  • Earning specific responsibilities such as helping adults with activities like cooking special meals, going to work with them, working on the automobile, shopping (not for presents), etc.
  • Simple Sticker Chart (basic, non-complicated, incremental) that has no more than 3 behavioral expectations (target behaviors to replace negative behaviors) and is short in duration leading to verbal and tangible rewards (may start out hourly and move to daily, weekly, etc.)
  • Treasure Chest ( cheap items from the dollar store): should be used as an incremental “store” to exchange behavioral earnings if parents develop a charting system. Earnings should be procured on a short term incremental basis (ie. hourly, daily, etc. depending on the child’s capability to maintain positive behavior). They should eventually be replaced with increased responsibility, praise, etc.
  • Help mom/dad set up a yard sale and sell specific items to take the money and spend it at their favorite store.
  • Start a garden or flower bed (with parent assisting, but giving the child all the praise).
  • Building a model or something from scratch (tool box, tree house, toy chest, etc.)
  • Painting something
  • Having a party with friends
  • Fishing
  • Museums
  • Move at a theater with just parent(s) or family

Keep scrap paper nearby at home, work, in the car, or a file on your computer to keep generating ideas and writing them down. Mix them up. You may want to wear things out. Prioritize their importance based on their functionality, logistics of accomplishing them, or how much the child enjoys them.

Tedd W. McCauley, LCSW