E.G. “You get paid up to $10 every Saturday for compliance with rules throughout the week. You get a small dessert every night when your dinner is completed. You can have 1 soda during homework time, as long as you completed your homework successfully the night before…”.
* Something to remember here if you’re feeling stuck: anything outside of food, water, shelter and safety can be used as an incentive.
A dad once came to me with his 12-year-old son, hoping that he could find a way to help him get along better with his 7-year-old sister. They talked about an incentive plan that dad was trying where his son would earn points for good behavior. When I asked about the incentive plan and what the son was regularly getting to do or have as a result of doing well, dad told me that he was so far in the negative with points that he wasn’t earning anything at all and hadn’t earned anything in quite a long time. So it was easy, then, to talk with his son and realize that he was not motivated to do any better because earning incentives felt unrealistic. After some consideration and conversation, dad reconsidered his plan, and later that week took the points down and made a simple daily plan including a desired daily incentive that the son loved. The plan was that every day that the son was respectful to the sister by letting her play with him and by helping her to learn in a respectful way, he earned 30 minutes of video game time (something he wasn’t getting any of before this because of how far in the red he was with the failed point system). The next week they came in, and both the dad and son were beaming and proud. The son was happy that he was getting daily video game time, and the dad was ecstatic that his children were getting along better than ever.
C. Meaningful Consequences
E.G. If the room is not cleaned when mom gets home, all electronics are off until it is done. Being physically aggressive with your brother gets your phone taken for 24 hours. When mom has to feed the dog because you forgot, $1 of your weekly allowance goes to paying mom for doing your chore.
Notice that the examples above are all short term. Losing a cell phone for 24 hours, electronics off only until the chore is done, rather than for 2 weeks at a time. This is because kids, like adults, adapt to change so quickly that if a desired item is taken away for too long, it often loses it’s appeal and they learn to live happily without it. Keep consequence meaningful by keeping them short. The longest a young child (ages 5-10) should experience a consequence is 1-2 days. For 11-17, never longer than a week if you want them to stay motivated to behave well.
Keep in mind that a consequence is different than a rule change or a life change. I recently had a 16-year-old boy lose his cell phone indefinitely for some serious legal problems he encountered with some friends. Both he and his parents decided that it was just easier for him to be a productive member of his family if he didn’t have a phone of his own. If you find yourself in a position where you decide that, because your son or daughter is just not being who you want them to be and you’re compelled to do something to drastically change their life, your actions will not be the same as a short-term consequence like grounding or time out. It’s important to make sure your kid knows that this is a life change, and there is nothing they can do in the short term to switch this around again.
Another thing to remember about consequences is that you shouldn’t believe your child’s words when he or she is mad and trying to convince you that your consequence doesn’t mean anything. Even (and especially) when your teen says, “I don’t care, take my phone away, I’m still going to (fill in the blank with undesired behavior)”. DO IT ANYWAY. Think of yourself as a police officer offering a ticket for speeding (oh, if we could just tell that cop we didn’t care and as a result he didn’t offer the ticket…wouldn’t that be great?!?). When you act like a cop and give them the consequence anyway, regardless of what they say, one of 2 things is going to happen: they really will care, and as a result their behavior will get better so they can avoid that consequence in the future. Or, like some adults who get tickets, they won’t care, they’ll keep the behavior up, and the consequences can get gradually worse (i.e. go from losing the cell phone for the night to losing it for 24 hours, to 48 hours, to also losing electronics, etc). Just like it does with the legal system, the penalties will get more severe until they eventually figure out that the undesired behavior simply won’t be tolerated.
Making rules, incentives and consequences clear can be a huge benefit towards increasing your child’s compliance. If you are a parent trying to find something to do to help, experiment with this first. Next week, I’ll post my 2nd tip, and we’ll go from there.
Good luck, and please email me with any questions or comments. If you’re having success, let me know in the email if it’s ok for me to post it, and I’ll put it up here to encourage other parents.