Behavior management can be a tricky road to navigate. Finding means to reinforce good behavior can be particularly difficult. As a parent who is also a psychologist, I have found that desirable behaviors often seem to be reinforced with the use of food. Or worse yet, expected behaviors are reinforced with food.
Homework completed, that’s cause for a sucker!
Memorized that prayer for religion class, candy bar it is!
Bedroom cleaned up, sounds like it’s time for ice cream!
I love food as much as anyone, but reinforcing behaviors with food can really set a child up for a lifelong, negative relationship with food. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 children and adolescents are affected by obesity. Given the obesity epidemic in the United States, we don’t need another contributing factor to this growing problem. Certainly some children present with more behavioral challenges than other children, but regardless, reinforcement of those desired behaviors in typically developing children does not need to involve food. Children tend to respond just as well to simple reinforcers, such as those that will fuel their self-esteem.
Other Behavior Management Reinforcers
- Saying “thank you” when having completed an expected task. (“Thank you for putting away the dishes.”)
- Allowing them to “show off” their work, such as their clean room. (“I would love a tour of your room!”)
- Having your child intentionally “overhear” you praising them to the other parent, family member, or friend (of course after you have already sung his/her praises!)
- Complimenting an aspect of the completed work – reinforce the effort rather than the finished project. (“I really like how you put your books on the bookcase!”) – even if it is not the most organized system.
- Spending one-on-one time on a favorite activity
- Playing a game
- Going for a bike ride
- Going to the park
- Working on a craft
- Snuggling with a good book
- For behaviors that require more “building up to,” earning stickers towards an agreed upon reinforcement – whether it be a small toy, book, movie, outing, etc. – works well, but using some of the above reinforcers along the way so as to not lose interest or motivation in the meantime.