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The next activity is perfect for wee little ones. It’s highly visual and involves something all little children love–presents! Many times parents ask me if it’s ok to give prizes, presents, or money as incentives for different things. My answer is always a resounding yes! I also believe in bribery in the right circumstances. It’s ok to reward kids with material items for behaviors you wish to see. It’s also great to couple those prizes with thoughtful language that helps the child see and understand what they have accomplished with their choices.

By talking about the behavior, and reinforcing for your child how well their new choice is working for them and the family, you will help your child transition from being extrinsically-motivated to being intrinsically-motivated. Being extrinsically motivated means we are working for something outside of ourselves, such as money, or an experience, or even praise from another person.

Being intrinsically motivated means we are working because of something we feel inside of ourselves that moves us to do a certain behavior. Most behavior in life centers around a combination of both. That is, most adults work, for example, both to earn money so they can enjoy the things they want to do in life, as well as to accomplish something they feel good about.

Yet, even if someone doesn’t like their life work, they can still be intrinsically motivated to work hard, simply because they can see other benefits in their lives as a result of their hard work, such as providing for a family, or getting to spend their money doing fun things.

Using money and prizes with children mirrors this. It is true that at first, the child may do the behavior just to get the prize. But the idea is, that in time, they will continue the behavior because they see how well the new behavior works for them, and soon will no longer need an extrinsic motivator. Also, sometimes in life, we all need to be bribed a little. I know I bribe myself almost daily to do things I don’t feel like doing. It’s a little game I play with myself that makes life more fun.

I’ll say to myself, “I’ll go for my run after I fill out those forms.” I like running, I don’t like filling out paperwork. So, I place the undesirable behavior before the desirable one. I also bribe myself with material things. I’ll say to myself, “I’ll go buy that new book after I finish organizing these two closets.”

Knowing I’m going to get to dive into my new book as soon as the chore is done speeds up the cleaning process by probably half of what it would have been otherwise. Self-bribery is a very important and very practical life skill! And that’s why I’m A-Ok with bribing children in certain circumstances.That extended tangent leads us to the next activity, which is perfect for little ones aged 3 to 8, which I call a Surprise Gift Basket.

The surprise gift basket is perfect for incentivizing your child to do a desired behavior, and it can work for eliminating behaviors as well. For example, let’s say you’re potty-training 2 – 4 year old. Every time your child uses the potty for #1, or #2, or both, depending on which one you’re working on, they get to pick a prize from the basket.

Another good time to use a surprise basket would be for a child who is working on staying in their bed once they have been put down for their nap or for the night. If they stay in bed, they get to go straight to the prize basket when they wake up.

Yet another might be letting your child pick a prize after they have sat politely through dinner, for the length of time you specify, and have done a good job eating or trying the foods you have served.

To use the surprise gift basket to help eliminate a behavior, you can let your child pick a prize every day, or half day that they do not display the undesirable behavior. You can say, “All morning, you used your words instead of crying when you wanted something! You get to pick a surprise!”

To make a surprise gift basket, you will need to buy a lot of small gifts, typically ranging in price from 10 cents to $2 each. What you spend it up to you.

You’ll want to wrap each prize separately in colorful paper so the basket becomes a very bright visual for your child. Place the wrapped prizes in a large basket that can be left out in the kitchen or other active area of your home. Make sure it is highly visible to your child by putting it right on the kitchen counter or in the middle of a table.

At a set time of day, or on a variable, intermittent schedule, let your child choose a present from the basket. Announce, “You may pick a surprise for keeping your hands to yourself all morning.”

If you want to use the surprise gift basket to modify a behavior with siblings, that’s just fine. Just buy more prizes, and then they all get to pick a prize when you say it’s time. An example of when this may work well is when it’s something they are working on together, such as not arguing with each other, or keeping their shared bedroom, or a playroom clean.

Food treats are fine to wrap up in the basket. However, you will want to avoid food treats if your child has a weight issue or if there is a history of eating disorders in the family.

In this circumstance, you will not want to withhold or reward your child with food. Just stick to non-food prizes. Keep the basket going until the desired behavior is established, or until the undesirable behavior has fallen away. Be sure to get prizes your child will really enjoy, so you can be sure they will serve as a motivator. But, of course, you don’t want to break the bank either.

The next activity is great to use at home, as well as by a teacher with a particular student in the classroom. Or, it can be used whole class. It’s called The Choices Book., and it works well with children aged 8 and up. I made this book up, once again, for my sweet little Mackenzie when she was about 12 years old.

This is the perfect strategy for when your child seems to lack an awareness around a undesirable behavior, or around themselves in general. At this time, Mackenzie was talking back on a daily basis, and it was creating a lot of negative energy in our home. Although sometimes her arguments were worthy, most of the time she was just being contrary.

It was exhausting and annoying. She did receive penalties for this behavior and serve isolation through the Choice Chart, but at this point the difference was that she also had to write in her Choices Book. Another important element is that the child also writes positive choices that they make into the Choices Book.

Here’s how it works. Each page of the Choices book looks exactly the same. It says, over and over down the page, “The choice I made…” and below that, “This choice meant…” Throughout the day, you ask your child to write certain choices they make into the book. Try to pick choices throughout the day that will serve the purpose of helping your child develop an awareness around the choices they are making that are both working well and not so well for them.

An entry looks like this:

The choice I made…was to put towels down on the floor under the sink before I gave Cassatt a bath.” Cassatt is our dog.
This choice meant…water did not get all over the floor. Mom said it was very helpful that I made such a good choice.”

Another entry might look like this:

The choice I made…was to talk back to mom about my clothes.

This choice meant…I got a penalty, I served my isolation time, she took my favorite shirt, and everyone in the house felt bad hearing me argue.

It’s good to try to have your child write a few of their positive choices for every one of their negative choices. Try to do a 3:1 positive to negative ratio, so your child feels noticed and motivated.

Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into a criticism trap that’s hard to climb out of. It will be necessary in the beginning for you to help your child to see all of the negative outcomes of their poor choices. At first they may say they don’t know what to write. It’s ok if you script it out for them at first. Afterall, if they were self-aware, they wouldn’t be doing the behavior in the first place.

Help them think of what the physical consequences were, “I served an isolation. Mom took my favorite shirt.” Also, help them with the social and emotional consequences

“Everyone in the house felt bad hearing me argue.”

I only had to use this book twice while my children were growing up. Each time, we used it for a couple of weeks.

By using this book, the child begins to see patterns in their behavior. These can be very enlightening for all. Discuss any patterns you notice with your child, and give your child strategies for avoiding these choices based on what you find. You can strategize together. Do this in a loving and supportive way.

Also, another motivator is that the child will get tired of writing in the book. This alone speeds the establishment of better behavior choices.

I love the Choices book because it works. It’s a powerful way to help a child gain awareness around themselves and an awareness of what life is like for the people who interact with them each day. And, if you keep the book, it’s fun, and even funny, to read once you’re kids are grown.

Here are some final thoughts on behavior specific modification strategies.

Behavior Specific Modification Strategies:

Final Thoughts and Part B

You’ll remember that Part A of behavior-specific modification strategies is having the pre-meeting and implementing the strategy. Part B is following up once you feel your child has either released their undesirable behavior and/or has developed a new desirable behavior.

Following up involves asking your child how they feel about their accomplishment and giving them the reward that you agreed upon in the Pre-Meeting. You can make giving the reward to them a special event and turn it into a little celebration, or you can just give it to them quietly, whichever seems better in the given situation.

Another thing I want to mention is that sometimes everyone in the family will need to be aware that the child is working on the behavior. This would be the case when the behavior affects other people in the family, which is most often the case. But sometimes, depending on what it is, you may decide to keep it private from your other children. For example, if your child is swearing or not taking good care of their belongings, this may be something that does not involve or need to involve your other children.

When you show respect to children by giving them some privacy around discipline as well as other areas in life, you help them develop a strong sense of self-respect. This is because the level of respect you show to your children as they grow will become what they know, and therefore how they will treat both themselves and others in return when they are grown.

As adults, our default tendency is to re-create what we experienced as children because even if it was a less-than experience, it’s comfortable for us, we know it. So, it’s a great thing to use every opportunity to show to your child and to say to your child, “I respect you.” and to show them that respect, even when they are in need of behavior modification. This will help your child learn to be gentle with themselves when they make poor choices.

Having a strong sense of self-respect will help them learn from the poor choices and the mistakes that they make along the way in their lives.