The 411 on Threats, Bribes, Punishments + Rewards
And Your New Set of Tools…
As parents, we often rely on threats, bribes, punishments and rewards to try and get our little ones to finally listen to us or to behave in an acceptable manner. It’s the tools we’ve used because they have worked. That is until they don’t work anymore. We’ve all used them… mostly because it’s simply what we know. It’s what we were taught — or learned for that matter.
“Stop hitting your sister or your screen time will be taken away.”
“If you sit quietly in church, then you can get an ice cream when it’s over.”
“If you don’t clean your room, there will be no soccer practice.”
“If you don’t share your toy with your brother, I’ll take it away so no one can play with it.”
Sound familiar? The challenge with these tools is that over the long-run they end up leaving our kids feeling either fearful of punishment for their negative behavior or dependent on us for a reward for positive behavior.
These tools work when we are trying to control our kids and get them to do what we want them to do. Of course we want them to listen. BUT don’t we also want them to have a strong sense of self, think for themselves, and become compassionate, competent people?
Of course we do… in that case, threats, bribes, punishments, and rewards just aren’t going to cut it as a go-to tool. They end up controlling, manipulating, and denying our little ones opportunities to make choices and mistakes… opportunities for learning.
So, what tools CAN we use to help our little ones become their best selves and listen while also providing boundaries for behaviors that are not appropriate?
Let’s take a look at a few… now they may seem counter to how you feel about parenting (so maybe they’re not right for you and that’s ok), but if the above is just not working and you’re more often than not getting into power struggles, you might want to rethink some things. Psst: These work for bedtime antics too.
* * *
Catch Them Doing “Right”
At the end of the day our little ones really do want to get it “right”. They really do.
When you put too much focus on what they are doing wrong, you highlight imperfections resulting in them not feeling “good enough.”
So, what can you do differently? Catch those mini successes. It’s not about the end goal and getting the final product “right” but the process along the way.
Let’s say your little one is not staying in bed and getting up a lot. It’s easy to resort to “What are you doing out of bed? Get back in bed. I don’t want to have to come in here again. If you don’t stay in bed, I’m going to take things out of your room.” (The Threat)
Instead, try celebrating the journey and have it not just be about staying in bed all night long.
So it would look something like this, “You stayed in your bed for 5 minutes last night before you got up. Way to go. I bet tomorrow night you can do 6 minutes.” … Then the next night, “You only got up 3 times last night. I’m so impressed. You did it.”
Start catching your little one doing good and you’ll start seeing his behaviors shift. Don’t expect things to change overnight. But the more you incorporate this way of thinking during daytime challenges too (e.g., “You cleared your dinner plate, you’re so helpful in keeping this house run smoothly.”), it will all come together as you build your little’s self-esteem.
* * *
See The Best in Them
Believe it or not, there is a constructive way to deal with our little ones when their actions are out of bounds. Even if you can’t imagine that your toddler or older kid is trying to be good, if we reframe the situation and see the best in one another, oh how you will see things change.
You will be able to transform almost any situation from chaos to a teaching and learning moment.
When our littles are being good and listening, it is so much easier to encourage them. But, when it seems as though they are being disrespectful and not listening, we tend to get angry at them. The underlying message is that when you do what I want, you earn my love. When you ignore me, I withhold my love.
But what if you changed your perspective and saw them trying to do good?
So, first let’s assume your little one’s motives are positive (even if they don’t seem to be). Our little ones often convey their wants and needs through their actions, like hitting or grabbing to get what they want. So what do you do when this happens?
Try and see things from your little one’s perspective. They are most likely acting developmentally appropriate.
For example, you may get angry when your little one takes a toy away from another child or sibling. For example, “I’ve told you before, don’t grab toys from your brother, there are no books at bedtime tonight.” (The Punishment).
Instead, you want to step back and see the situation from your little’s perspective. State your little’s motive and describe her actions, “You really wanted to play with that fun toy, so you grabbed it out of your brothers hand. I know you love that toy.”
Next, state the limit and why it’s needed, “You may not grab toys out of your brothers hand. He was not done playing with it.”
Then teach them what you want them to do or say, “When you want to play with that toy, you can say ‘Jack I want to play with that toy.’ … Let’s try it.”
Giving your little one a do-over (hence the “Let’s try it.”) gives them a chance to get it right, and then you can catch them doing good! See how this comes full circle!?! And then when your little one does, you can offer that encouragement of “You did it” and help build that self-esteem.
Do-overs are so important. We all make mistakes and we get to teach our little ones that it’s ok to make mistakes — that’s how we learn.
* * *
Discipline — Setting the Consequence
Here’s the thing with discipline… The goal of discipline is NOT to punish but to instruct, to teach, and to guide your little one.
To reach these goals, you need to instill consequences that are related to your little one’s actions. They need to be logical.
For example, if your little one is adamant about wanting to pour their own milk into a cup or cereal bowl and the milk spills onto the counter, she can get a napkin or paper towel to clean it up.
If your little one decides not to bring a sweatshirt or jacket when it’s cold outside, she will be cold.
As long as the logical consequence is not life threatening, morally threatening, or unhealthy, it’s probably a good idea to let your little one experiences them WITHOUT warnings or reminders.
BUT you ask… What can you do when there is NO natural consequence? So many of us struggle to find things that are meaningful and appropriate. We are so quick to take away the iPad or some other form of media. After awhile our little one’s just don’t care. So what can we do?
Phone it in… RSVP — When you are thinking about your consequence take a minute and ask yourself the following questions about the consequence first. Is it Reasonable? Is it Simple? Is it a Valuable learning tool? Is it Practical?
If you can say yes to all of them, then you probably have a pretty good consequence on your hand that will be a learning experience for your little one. If not, take some more time to figure out how your little one can learn from the mistake at hand.
* * *
Last But Not Least…
I’m about four weeks away of officially becoming a certified behavior specialist. So if you have a list of struggles (and we all do!) and want help with them, go here to schedule a FREE 15-minute call with me, and we can chat about it!
* * *
Oh, one more thing!
Every other week I share 5 things on how you and your little can get the most out of their first 5 years of life in my newsletter — The Healthy Little Note.
If you have little ones, I’m sure you’ll love it!
You can check out the most recent issue here.
Or, click SUBSCRIBE below: