Sunday, September 13, 2009
Recently I was interviewed by a local magazine writer who was writing about getting children to do chores. As always, I suggest that parents/caregivers use positive reinforcement and logical consequences to guide children into making good choices and growing up to be kind and loving human beings. I believe that theory supports that children are born with a temperament and develop personalities based on interactions with caregivers and the environment. If you are cared for with love and given healthy guidance to make good decisions, children gave confidence and empathy. I encourage parents to teach children to make good choices and exhibit healthy behaviors by "catch them being good." Most parents will intervene when children are misbehaving; however, I suggest that you try to ignore poor choices (unless there is a safety issue) and instead to focus on when children are behaving and making good choices. For example, how about rewarding random acts of kindness? When have you ever rewarded your child for being nice to a sibling or another child? Making a big deal about what behaviors and words you want repeated will decrease the need for discipline and consequences, but that takes work on the part of parents. So back to the interview with the magazine writer. As I was trying to explain this concept, I typically use the example of slot machines. The way that casino owners get a high rate of responding to slot machines is by making it random when a person will hit a winning spin on the slot machine. That's called a variable rate of reinforcement. The person playing the slot machine never knows when they are going to hit a pay off AND watching all the people around them randomly hit payoffs also encourages them to keep putting money in the slot machine. How does this apply to rewarding children? Well, if you randomly reward your child for behaviors you want repeated then children are more likely to repeat those positive behaviors. If I congratulate and hug you and sometimes even give you a special reward for being nice to your sister, you might want to be nice to your sister more often. That's a variable, unpredictable reinforcement for doing something healthy. This works great for kids and is easy as a parent. Remember to hug and congratulate and cheer for your child when they do something that is healthy and appropriate and your child will be more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. So, the magazine writer missed a great deal of the explanation and basically wrote that I said that "children are like slot machines. The more you put in the more you get out." Well at least the last sentence is true. The more we invest in our children, the more our children will grow up to be healthy, wonderful people.