How do you give your child meaningful consequences while also giving enough praise?
Yesterday, I received a text message from my cousin. The message said:
“Can E get shipped to your house for three days. She needs military school. I’m just tired. Everything is a battle and her new mantra is, “Mama, I’m just trying to make a deal.”
Let me start by saying that I responded with a big old “no.” See, I am affectionately referred to as E’s “fairy godmother,” and much as I love spending time with her, I don’t want to lose that status!
I went on to tell her that toddlers don’t usually get accepted into military school and offered up a strategy. “Teach E to compromise, rather than the one-sided deals she had gotten so good at making.”
She then responded with this statement: “I feel like when you do things like run off in the middle of the store, you should be punished. It’s hard to give meaningful consequences and give enough praise.”
She was seeking a tangible behavioral strategy to use with E.
This got me thinking, what is a quick and easy strategy that any parent could use on the go?
One suggestion I gave was to make an outing checklist. An outing checklist is an easy way to outline a few rules for your child to follow, as well as identifying a special reinforcer that could be earned. The best part is that you could scrawl this on a piece of scrap paper found at the bottom of your purse.
See my example below:
The best part about a checklist likes this is that it allows a parent to praise the things their child does well. But also address the area(s) where their child needs a little extra practice.
But what about the consequences?
Any BCBA will tell you the importance of positive reinforcement. Research says you should provide others with 4 positive statements for each corrective statement. However, some days parenting is just hard. You consider sending your 5 year old to military school. You dream of a day when you can just run an errand with your kids without needing a pocketful of treats.
First, establish a positive reinforcement system that works for your child. For most children, including E, electronics are highly reinforcing. There is seemingly endless supply of games to play or videos to watch. If this is the case for your child, you may want to isolate a few specific times of day when they are allowed to play with one of these devices. By limiting access, it ensures that the chosen reinforcer remains desirable.
With this in mind, a parent can easily whip up a chart like the one below:
It may even be beneficial to just start with the “earning extra minutes” section. Once your child understands the power of a chart like this, you can introduce the “consequence,” which is otherwise known as response cost. Response cost is when something that has already been earned gets taken away.
It is important to be sure that if you decide to take away minutes, that you are also going above and beyond to find extra reasons to give minutes back. Remember the 4:1 idea of praise to corrective statements. That rule applies here as well.
Here is how a completed version of this chart would look:
Both of the strategies shown above allow parents to give meaningful consequences while also delivering praise… and the best part is you won’t feel you have to send your toddler to military school.