Thursday, July 3, 2014

Can rewards and consequences help?

     I wanted to add a note to my last post about rewards and consequences.  Sometimes children respond to brief and immediate incentives or negative consequences, particularly if they have already learned a coping strategy or two.  Then you can work with your child on a brief incentive if he tries a new strategy when he starts to get upset.  There are a few keys to this:

1) Work on the strategy together for a week and practice when your child is not upset, and then in a week tell him/her you are proud of him and want to encourage him now to try it when he feels frustrated.

2) Talk together about some brief incentives and tell him he can choose one if he attempts the new strategy.  Notice that your child would get to pick one of the rewards that you both agreed on.  It is more fun if you don't use just one reward all the time.  

3)  Your child earns the reward if he tries.  It will be hard for him to control his anger and you don't want to focus on success, but on effort.

4) Try to help him "catch" the frustration in the early stages because it is then that his rational brain will be most engaged and it is at that time your child has the best chance of controlling his anger.

     I would not recommend using consequences until you have worked on strategies to help your child deal with anger (like those coping strategies I describe elsewhere on my blog and in my parent's manual).  It is possible that if at the time a child starts getting upset (before he reaches the anger overload phase) he remembers what a punishment felt like previously, then that memory could help motivate him try to use a self-control strategy.  The problem is that your child may reach the overload phase so quickly that he won't be thinking rationally about potential consequences.  This is why I don't usually recommend consequences for helping a child deal with anger.

     If you want to try this, pick a short term consequence, like no computer time after dinner.  Furthermore, be very clear about exactly what behavior would bring about a consequence (for example,  specific swear words).  Keep in mind that the consequence has to be something meaningful to your child, and sometimes you don't know what will catch his attention until you try something.  And do not talk about the consequence while your child is in anger overload.  First prepare him ahead of time when everyone is calm and then impose it after your child has calmed down.  Mention it in a matter of fact way without a lot of emotion or a lot of discussion.

     Be sure to praise your child whenever he tries a strategy, and if consequences cause more outbursts, then hold off in the future on these consequences, and go back to the other approaches in my parent's manual.

    In actuality, if you follow the guide in my manual, you are using natural incentives and consequences!  Specifically, you are paying attention (which is rewarding) to your child when he is working with you on self-control strategies, and you are ignoring (negative consequence) when he is in the anger overload phase.
David Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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