The Importance of Teaching Our Children to Earn Privileges

Mother And Daughter Putting Star On Reward Chart

You’ve probably heard many parents and teachers complain about how spoiled kids are nowadays!  You’ve probably also read many blogs ( I know I have) talking about the problems in today’s culture with parents overindulging their kids, kids feeling entitled, and overall society going down the drain as a result of these spoiled overindulged kids.

Maybe you are wondering what I think, as a child psychologist, about this problem?

Well, I don’t think it’s the end of the world and as widespread as some adults express. I do not see spoiled kids as a HUGE issue in my practice. That being said, I do see it. I see families who are struggling to help modify their child’s behavior and struggle with implementing behavioral programs we discuss in sessions. I see kids who have difficulty managing big feelings and act out in maladaptive ways. For some kids it’s anger issues, for some kids it’s anxiety, and for some it is a combination of both, or perhaps their struggles include depression and irritability. Kids and humans are complex beings with complex emotions. However, the characteristic they all have in common is that the behaviors they choose to express themselves (even if they don’t think or feel they have a choice) make things worse. Acting out hurts others and isn’t a long term solution.

Here are some examples of maladaptive behaviors:

Maybe your child yells that they hate you, gets aggressive, and calls you some inappropriate names?

Maybe your child flat out refuses to sleep in their own bed or go to school?

Maybe your child checks compulsively?

Whatever they may be doing, do you think to yourself “it’s not getting better” or even “it’s getting worse?”

I work with kids and family to help them understand their feelings and what their feelings are communicating to them. Then the next step is to tie that emotion to the behavior that follows. Kids (and adults) develop unhealthy behaviors because they provide some sort of temporary relief. But, the problem is that the solution is not long lasting. That’s why in order for a behavioral system that works to change your child’s behavior, rewards are important. That’s why we call it behavior modification.

Many of my clients “get it” and when their child makes changes by using coping strategies, practices safe behavior, assertive communication, and takes step to face their fears they reward them with items or activities they know the child enjoys. This has many benefits in that it teaches kids cause and effect, the principles of work then play, and earning privileges. I always remind parents, “you don’t need to spend a lot of money on rewards.” I remind parents that rewards are things you would already be getting for your kids and even special activities, outings, and one on one time with family members. It’s okay to make them work for it. They gain a sense of pride and value. And the best part is that they will continue to be motivated for positive change. Now parents also will ask, “Does this mean I have to reward them forever?” The answer is no.

According to behavioral theory, when we are modifying and shaping a new behavior, yes it is important to provide immediate reinforcement, but once the  behavior has been established you can vary the frequency and consistency of how often the reward/ reinforcement is given. Plus by now, your child will also be experience the natural rewards with feeling more confident, secure, and able to manage their emotional and behavioral reactions. The downside in not having kids earn their privileges is that not only are you not providing effective opportunities for them to change their behaviors, but you are also implicitly giving them the message that their behavior is okay. If they still have access to technology, special activities like horsebackriding etc, then why on earth would they change? Your inaction is communicating to them that their misbehavior is acceptable and you are not providing opportunities for them to develop new strategies that will ultimately benefit their mental and behavioral health.

Yes, I understand change is hard and yes, especially when you’ve been doing something for a long time, a child’s behavior will get worse before it gets better. Keep in mind that is to be expected. That is the learning curve. Your children will remember the one time you gave in and keep trying to break you down. But, remember you are the boss and even though it’s hard to get through it, you can do it, your kids can do it, consistency is the key to successful change, and you are stronger than you think. If you want professional help for your child emotional and behavioral struggles, please schedule a FREE 10 minute phone consultation, by clicking on my online scheduler that says “Book Online Now.”

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