Teaching Responsible Behaviour to Children

It takes much more than parental discipline … it requires an approach that utilize a system of rewards, feedback and punishment.

Rewards should never be used as a substitute for authority; reward and punishment both respectively have their own place in child management, and reversals bring unfortunate results.  It therefore is very important to know when to use rewards and when to resort to punishment.  It is not recommended that rewards be utilized when the child has challenged the authority of the parent.

In this post we will mainly be looking at the reward or reinforcement system.  This system boils down to “Teaching your child that his positive behaviour determines desirable consequences.”  In other words, if your child likes what happens as a result of his behaviour, he will be inclined to repeat it.

The biggest rule that govern the application of the rewards system to children is to NEVER hand out gifts and prizes in an unplanned manner.  Specific principles and rules must be laid down and followed with them, if the system of reinforcement is to achieve its full potential.

1.  The reward must be granted quickly after the desirable behaviour has occurred.  Immediate reinforcement is the most useful technique available to parents in teaching responsibility to their children.  The system can be modified in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

  • A rewards chart listing 10 of the child’s nonnegotiable “Daily Jobs” (such as brushing his teeth etc.) should be placed somewhere convenient.  Every evening you can go through the list with your child, and determine the positive behaviour (jobs) done satisfactorily, and then reward that behaviour with a golden star or red dot next to it.
  • Give 50c for every positive behaviour done properly in a given day; but if more than three items are not done in one day, no money should be given.
  • A child can therefore earn a maximum of R5 a day.
  • The list of behaviours to be rewarded does not remain static.  Once the child has gotten into the habit of hanging up his clothes, brushing his teeth, etc. Parents should then substitute new responsibilities.
  • Make a new chart every month.

2.   The reward need not be material in nature.  Anything that is considered desirable to an individual can serve as reinforcement for his behavior.  Some children would rather receive a sincere word of praise than ten rand note, particularly if the adult approval is expressed in front of other children.  We all seek constant satisfaction of our emotional needs, including the desire for love, social acceptance, and self-respect.  Additionally we hope to find excitement, intellectual stimulation, entertainment, and pleasure.  We are all keenly interested in what our associates thing and say.  As a result, verbal reinforcement can be the strongest motivator of human behavior.

  • Verbal reinforcement should permeate the entire parent-child relationship.  Too often our parental instruction consists of a million “don’ts” which are jammed down our child’s throat.  We should spend more time rewarding him for the behaviour we desire, even if our “rewards” is nothing more than a sincere compliment.  Remembering the child’s need for self-esteem and acceptance, the wise parents can satisfy those important longings while using them to teach valued concepts and behaviour.
  • It is unwise for parents to compliment the child for behaviour she does not admire.  If everything the child does earns him a big hug and a pat on the back, approval gradually becomes meaningless.

3.    Almost any behaviour that is learned through reinforcement can be eliminated if the reward is withheld long enough.  It is an established fact that unreinforced behaviour will eventually disappeared.

To eliminate an undesirable behaviour in a child, one must identify and then withhold the critical reinforcement.

For example: A child that whines instead of speaking in a normal voice does so because his irritating whining gets him the results that his normal voice does not. And so he becomes a whiner.  To extinguish the whining, one must simply reverse the reinforcement. For example:  Mom should begin by saying, “I can’t hear you, because you’re whining.  My ears can’t hear whining.”  After this message has been communicated for a day or two, Mom should ignore all moan-tones.  On the other hand, she should ensure that she offers immediate attention to a request made in a normal voice.

If this form of control of reinforcement is applied properly, it will achieve the desired results. Nearly all learning is based on this principle, and the consequences are certain and predictable.

4.    Accidental reinforcement

It is remarkably easy to reward undesirable behaviour in children by allowing it to succeed.  Thus reinforcing undesirable behaviour and weakening valued behaviour.

For example:  Mr and Mrs Swart are having dinner guests, and they put their three year old Peter to bed at 19h00. Soon after the guests arrive Peter softly begins to cry that he doesn’t want to sleep.  Eventually his low pitch crying begins to build up to the decibel level of a jet at takeoff.  Finally, Mrs Swart becomes so embarrassed by the display that she allows Peter to get up.  What has Peter learned?  His quiet protest didn’t work.  He must cry loudly if he doesn’t want to stay in bed.

Another important aspect is that parents should not take a definitive position on an issue until they have thought it over thoroughly and listened to the child’s argument properly.  Then they should stick tenaciously to their decision.  As soon as parents start changing their decisions due to crying, yelling, sulking, or pouting on the child’s part, the child learns that “no” actually means “maybe” and that “yes” is possible if they persist.  Parents must be careful about the behaviours they allow to succeed.  They must exercise self-discipline and patience to ensure that the tools or reinforcement are being used to encourage responsible and mature behaviour.

Summarized and adapted from “The Miracle Parenting Tools” by Dr. James Dobson


About Helouise Steenkamp

I'm a 45 plus, Devoted Wife and Mother. Adonai has blessed us with two Amazingly Wonderful Sons. We have had the privilege of being Place of Safety parents for 1 1/2 years and there after foster parents to a Darling Princess for 5 years. She was reconciled with her biological parents in Dec'14. Our hearts are still aching from the loss, but we know that as we trust Adonai with our salvation, so we can trust Him with her future. We welcomed our new 4 year old foster child on 05JUN'15.
This entry was posted in Behavioral Issues, Knitting Your Family, Parenting with Love. Bookmark the permalink.

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