Q: At our children's school they are trying a "new method" to teach kids good behavior. They are paying kids for good behavior with coins (play money).
In our family, we've always had both rules and consequences for breaking them, and our kids have always been praised for good behavior. We think it's ridiculous to pay children to be "good" at school. Good behavior is both expected and quite normal to our kids.
How can I explain to our kids why I don't want them to get paid to be good. I'd like more information about this method. -- Pam
A: This sounds like behavior modification; it's not really new. It's an old method that was very popular among educators in the '70s.
Here are the main points: The child is only rewarded for the "good" behavior, (e.g. the behavior desired by adults). In the beginning the child is rewarded every time the desired behavior is seen.
Later, when the child "learns" the correct behavior, the child is rewarded only occasionally.
Most importantly, the rewards can be social (hugs, smiles) or they can be material things like gold stars or tokens that are earned and traded in for something meaningful that the child wants.
This method was popular and usually worked, but sometimes the adults would become careless and reward the child to STOP misbehaving, instead of rewarding only good behavior. This destroyed the method; the child would simply repeat the misbehavior in order to get rewarded again.
Whenever an adult gives a reward to get a child to stop misbehaving, it is bribery and will not work.
If, however, the adult makes a contract with the child in which the desired behavior is explained as an expectation and which is rewarded AFTER it is seen, it is behavior modification. It's like Grandma always said, "Do the chores first and then you can have the cookie."
Here's an example: The parent wants her child to understand before entering the store what behavior she expects. She explains to her child that when he is in the store he is not to ask mom to buy things.
The parent makes this a contract by saying, "If you behave and don't ask for things, then you and I will do something special after we get done."
If you want your kids to understand why you don't want them to be paid for being good, you might say, "We're really proud that you both know how to behave and how to keep the rules at home and school.
But some children don't know how to manage their behavior at all so the school is trying something to help kids who have trouble behaving.
"We wish you would not get paid, but if you do get paid, you may want to use your coins to do something special for your school that will help everyone, like buying a new library book or cafeteria supplies."
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.