Part 2 of a 2-Part Series, Tips 4-6
In my first article regarding effective skills for parenting, I discussed three topics for parents to address in order to encourage their children’s positive participation in the functioning of the family, and healthy, desirable behaviors. These were the assigning of household chores, learning to manage money, and strategies for discipline. In this second article, I discuss the rewarding of wanted behaviors versus the punishing of unwanted behaviors, the benefits of family meetings, and the importance of modeling and teaching the very behaviors you expect your children to exhibit.
4) Reward vs. Punishment
Perhaps the most common method of addressing undesirable behavior is punishment or negative consequences. Examples of a punishment approach include using time-outs, spankings, restricting privileges, limiting social activities, docking their allowance, and confiscating their most desired possessions in response to a child’s misbehavior, poor academic performance, or slacking on household chores. An alternative to punishment is to use a reward or “token economy” to encourage desirable behavior, which takes the emphasis off the undesirable.
Children do not all respond to discipline in the same way and the goal is to find something that works to help your child choose rightly. Children with significant behavioral problems often find themselves in trouble over and over again, and the unrelenting loss of money, social opportunities, and privileges can lead to such discouragement that they cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. The hopelessness that sets in can spawn a “why bother” attitude, or worse, depression or increasing rebelliousness. But these kids will often respond more favorably when they are rewarded for desirable behavior. Psychologically, it feels a whole lot better to be rewarded for doing something right than it does to be punished for doing something wrong. For younger children, use a sticker chart to track targeted positive behaviors and generate a list of rewards with the numbers of stars needed to earn each reward. With older children, use raffle tickets, poker chips, or marks on a white board to keep a tally. Only target two to three behaviors at a time, and when those are mastered tackle new ones. Remember that you are seeking to help your child succeed, be motivated, and be respectful and responsible.
Very young children, and kids with learning disabilities or difficulties such as ADHD, may need modified disciplinary measures. It may be asking a lot to expect a child with a short attention span to connect the dots between a whole week of behavior and a reward or punishment. Try breaking the behavioral period down into much smaller increments, even mere hours if that works better. Sometimes parents of two or more children find that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. When this is the case, explain to the children why they are being dealt with differently, and keep explaining it over time. Try to make the outcomes similar or fair, for example each child may potentially be rewarded with two hours of play time a day, but Child A may have earned the whole two hours after a day of being respectful and completing his chores, while Child B may have earned 15 or 30 minutes of play for each chore completed, or for being respectful for a few hours.
5) Family Meetings
Plan regular family meetings at which you can courteously discuss what is and is not going well in the household. School age children, especially teens, often accept and respond better to discipline when they are permitted some input into what the appropriate rewards and consequences will be. As parents, you naturally have the power of veto and the final say, but you might be surprised at what the children come up with. Ask them what they would choose if they were parents. This process shows respect for the children and helps them to own their own behavior and its repercussions, both positive and negative. Put established rules, rewards, and consequences in writing, have all parties sign the document if you wish, post it publically or keep it handy, and consistently stick with it. Make modifications as needed.
Family meetings can also be used as a time to plan family fun and to brainstorm ways of staying emotionally and recreationally connected as both parents and children traverse different stages of life. Stay plugged into your children’s changing interests and preferred family activities by asking them questions. Adolescents typically begin to favor time with their friends or romantic interests over time with their family, which is a normal part of human development and individuation. If family involvement becomes boring, or ceases to be relevant to your child as a maturing individual, it may be a losing battle to engage him or her. Use the power of attraction rather than guilt or coercion in order to mitigate the competition between friends and family.
6) Model and Teach
The attitude, speech, manners, and behavior you want for your children should all be modeled and taught in the home. If you don’t want your child to cuss, don’t cuss. If you want your child to pick their clothes up off the floor and make the bed, then you pick up your clothes and make your bed. If you want your child to respect their spouse and treat him or her well, then you respect your spouse and treat him or her well. If you want your child to have a close relationship with Christ, then demonstrate yours. If you want your child to be disciplined and have self-control, then you do the same.
How Christian Counseling Can Support You in Parenting Your Children
When you face challenges in life, two heads are often much better than one. It is no different with parenting difficulties. There are no parents who do not face a crisis at some point in raising children. Christian counseling provides a compassionate environment in which you can share your experiences, fears, and concerns. You will be met with a listening ear, a resourceful outside perspective, and ideas for improving your particular situation that are in harmony with Biblical teaching.
“Good Parenting – Family Feet,” courtesy of Jeff_golden, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Doing Your Chores,” courtesy of Orin Zebest, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)