Rewards & Consequences

The Delicate Balance of Rewards and Consequences

On a typical day, your child receives 20 criticisms or corrections for every one accolade. So your praise and rewards can go a long way toward inspiring good behavior — if paired with fair, consistent consequences. Here’s how to strike that balance.

A young ADHD girl crying after her parent doled out consequences for bad behavior
A young ADHD girl crying after her parent doled out consequences for bad behavior

Use these strategies — like rewards for good behaviors and consistent consequences for bad behaviors — to stop defiance or negative impulsivity.

Spend Unstructured Time Together

Schedule 15 minutes each day with your child, to do whatever he wants to. Playing together helps repair the parent-child bond and lays the groundwork for positive reinforcement in the future.

Make Praise Immediate and Often

Positive reinforcement is the best behavioral tool, and especially powerful when it comes from a parent. Look for opportunities throughout the day to praise your child. Keep praise immediate and enthusiastic, and specify the exact behavior you’re commending.

Reinforce Praise with Tokens

This works especially well with young children. Tokens can be anything tangible and easily recorded — stars on a chart, coins in a jar — and should be awarded promptly for good behavior. Once a certain number of tokens are amassed, the child earns a predetermined reward, such as a video game, a sleepover at a friend’s house, or a trip to the movies.

Don’t Ask, Tell

Don’t start your requests with “Would you mind?” or finish them with “O.K.?” Instead, make directives clear and succinct: “I notice your coat is on the floor. I’d like you to pick it up.”

[Free Download: 10 Rules for Parents of Defiant Kids with ADHD]

Insist on Eye Contact When You Talk to Your Child

That way, you prevent your kid from ignoring you, while reinforcing what you’re trying to communicate. “This can be done with humor,” says child psychologist Douglas Riley. “I use the phrase, ‘Give me your eyeballs.'”

Let Your Children Know (Politely) That They’re Not Your Equals

“I urge parents to make it clear that they own everything in their home,” says Riley. “Kids are often outraged to discover this. But they need to know that you’re in charge, and that access to all the nice things in life, like the phone, TV, and computer, has to be earned by showing positive behavior and a good attitude.”

Set Up Consequences Ahead of Time

These consequences should involve taking away privileges, such as access to the TV, playtime with friends, or another favorite activity. Particularly bad conduct, such as hitting or other physical violence, should result in an extended time-out (30 minutes for children over 8, an hour for adolescents), in an isolated room, where the child is instructed to think about his or her behavior.

Stick to the Consequences — No Matter What

“If your child hits a sibling five times and gets punished for it only three times, he knows he’s got a 40 percent chance of getting away with that behavior,” says psychiatrist Larry Silver, M.D. “A parent has to be 100 percent consistent in addressing bad behavior. Otherwise, the behavior may persist or even get worse.”

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