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Rewarding Bad Behavior

by Ronald A. Rowe | April 1st, 2015 | Behavior, Elementary

child pouting (400x400)You would never deliberately reward bad behavior in your workplace.  If an employee were taking bribes or stealing company supplies, you most assuredly would not give them a pat on the back and a promotion for their out of the box thinking.  You wouldn’t reward the laziest employee by lowering his quota and giving the extra work to his more efficient peers.  And you’d never ever reward your child for behaving badly, right?


If you’re being honest with yourself, you probably felt a little uncomfortable with the answer to that question.  Normal parents would never set out to reward bad behavior but when little Janie is kicking up a fit in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, it seems so much better to give in and avoid the embarrassment of a full-on public meltdown.  Little Johnny didn’t put his dishes away like you told him to but it is just easier to do it then to get him out of bed and make him take care of it.

Almost every parent has faced this dilemma at one point or another (or, more likely, at many points).  We have to chose between what is easier for us in the immediate case or what is most beneficial for our child’s social development in the long term.  Phrased as such, the choice is obvious.  We all want to do what’s best for our child.  But in the moment the choice is seldom quite so clear.  It’s hard to see that long-term harm that caving in and buying that ice cream cone will cause when you’re dealing with a screaming child and those condescending looks fro passerbys who either don’t have kids or have willfully forgotten what it was like.

The hard truth is that appropriately training your child to develop the social skill he or she needs for the future is hard work and is often quite inconvenient for parents. It takes consistency, an even temperament, and a willingness to ignore what strangers in the grocery store think of you.  The next time you have to deal with bad behavior in public, take a deep breath and put the momentary embarrassment and irritation into perspective against the lifelong benefit that you are giving your child by disciplining him or her appropriately and refusing to reward bad behavior.

It may seem like an eternity but I promise you it doesn’t take all that long in reality.  Once your child learns that your “yes” means “yes” and your “no” means “no” he or she will realize that they are fighting a losing battle and switch tactics.  Eventually, your hard line will produce a more complaint and well-mannered child who will – even more eventually – grow up to be a self-disciplined and well-adjusted adult.

And isn’t that what parenting is all about?

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