A mom recently asked, what works better… rewards or consequences? Is it better to offer something nice if your child does what’s asked or better to threaten that you’ll take privileges away when they don’t do what’s asked? The answer is to try using both. Two techniques give you more options. It doubles your parent power. Without rewards, there isn’t much incentive for kids to push themselves and try harder… and without consequences, children don’t push themselves and develop unrealistic expectations that things will always go their way.
Here are some things to think about:
If your child has it too cushy… that is they tend to get what they want and you find yourself having to remind or scream frequently to get compliance… don’t use more rewards. In this case, think of consequences. You’ll need to change a few things. Tell your kids that everything they’ve been getting has to now be earned (e.g., screen time, treats, special outings, non essential clothing, etc.) Even play-dates can be temporarily put on the chopping block until kids realize there’s no free lunch so to speak. Expect they won’t like this new show of parent power. It will feel unfair and they’ll protest. Expect a fight. Ignore these attempts to make you change your mind. Soon, they’ll come around and begin to listen better if they truly value the rewards.
If you’ve got too many consequences in place, you can add rewards by upping your expectations. Tell them you want to give them something new or fun and that you’ll offer a new task to earn it. For example, watching a movie of their choice on the weekend if they can get ready more cooperatively and independently in the morning. Don’t make it too easy for them. If they don’t work for these rewards (i.e., you give too many reminders), they won’t be proud of themselves when they finally do achieve it. Also don’t be angry with them if they don’t do it at first. Stay neutral, maybe a bit encouraging… I think you’ll probably do this in a few days or weeks… you’re smart… you like proving that you can do things more on your own…
Finally, be careful not to get trapped into the bad guy role. Kids often accuse their parents of being unfair and making up arbitrary rules just to feel powerful. Sometimes this gets parents to feel bad and back down. Don’t. Instead, join in with them. Tell them you appreciate how upset they are… you feel upset that they made a bad choice (by not listening or doing what was expected). You’re sad too that you can’t give them what they enjoy. Perhaps you also get punished because you can’t watch a movie with them or go out for a fun dinner. Tell them that tomorrow is another day and you’re predicting they’ll make a better choice tomorrow and earn back their rewards. Let them know, that’s what makes you happy.
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