Positive Methods to Cultivate Good Behaviors in Children

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In a previous article, I discussed three positive methods to increase good behaviors in children without corporal punishment.  Those were:  1) Token system for younger children;  2)  Point system for older children; and 3)  Praise, pats, and hugs (PPH)for all.  Three other positive methods to increase good behaviors without corporal punishment are discussed in this article.  These  are:  1)  Cue, prompt, and reward;  2)  Grandma's rule (Premack Principle); and 3) Behavioral rehearsal.   
Cueing, prompting, and rewarding is natural parental behavior; we do a lot of it with babies to increase their speech.  For example, a parent holds a candy in his or her hand and asks the baby (cue in), "what do you say?" If the baby seems lost, the parent says, "give me, give me candy" (prompting).  Then, whatever the baby says in response to it, even if it remotely sounds like, "give me," the parent gives a big hug and a kiss (rewarding), just for the effort made by the baby. It works beautifully.  Once babies get the hang of it, you can't shut them up.  

 Later, as babies grow older, we continue to cue in and prompt them by questions such as, 'What do you say?," "What do you need to do now?," or, "Did you forget something?" However, we don't reward them as often.  Perhaps, we think they are old enough and they should have remembered it.  We may also be somewhat resentful about, "Why my child didn't remember," and ask ourselves, "Why do I have to remind him (or her) every time."  Reward a child when he/she follows our cue or prompt, by saying, "That's great" or, "That's a terrific boy/girl."  Reward them for doing it, even though it is at your reminder.  Scolding or shaming a child for not remembering to say or do something doesn't work as well.  Rewarding now for doing it now works better for remembering to do it in the future.               

 Grandma's rule, "first eat your spinach and then you can have dessert," has worked for thousands of years.  It is also called the Premack Principle as Premack was the man who reinvented the grandma's rule:  first the unpleasurable task and then the pleasurable activity.  Grandma's rule dictates that a child first does the homework and then watches TV.  Do not reverse grandma's rule by telling your child, "You can watch TV now, if you promise to do your homework later in the evening."  If you reverse grandma's rule, you do so at your own peril.           

 Other examples of everyday applications of grandma's rule are as follows:  "After you wash the dishes, then you can go out and play";  "After you finish your homework then you can visit your friend"; "Straighten your room and then you can play with the computer," etc.  Grandma's rule is especially good for making sure that the chores and other responsibilities that are expected of a child are completed.  Grandma's rule works as long as the pleasure of the follow-up reward is greater than the boredom or the pain of the demanded task.  If a child doesn't accept your offer, it means that you either raise the ante or convince the child of the future benefits of completing the task, now.  

 To put a desired behavior firmly in place, reward your child immediately after he/she performs the behavior.  For example, after the child completes his/her chores, praise, pat or hug the child (social reward) and say, "now you can go out and play," or, "now you can watch TV in the evening," (conditional reward).  The combination of social reward and conditional reward works even better for putting a desired behavior firmly in place.        

 Another method is Behavior Rehearsal.  Behavioral rehearsal involves rehearsing and practicing a positive behavior before the actual event, that is, when you really want the child to perform the desired behavior.  For example, a parent, before visiting relatives for vacation, prepares his or her children by saying, "When we are at grandparents home, I want you both to play friendly rather than fighting over toys."  The parent then explains the "friendly play"  One parent explained it friendly play in the following way, "To ask a favor, say, 'Would you please?"  To seek permission, say, 'May I?'" The parent then instructs them about sharing, taking turns, trading toys, etc.  Having explained the above, the parent then asks them to rehearse.  As they practice, the parent rewards them socially and/or with material rewards.  Reward subsequent practices.  If children have had adequate practice, and if the practices have been suitably rewarded, then they are more likely to repeat the behavior in an actual situation,.  

 To sum up, six positive methods have been presented that do not involve corporal punishment.  Parents feel good about using these methods and children are likely to raise their self-esteem by the successes and the positive feedback they receive from their environment.  When parents can't elicit appropriate behavior from their children, they feel confused and helpless.  Following the positive disciplining methods in a consistent fashion.empowers parents. 

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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