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How to Get the Children to Cooperate

June 25, 1987|BONNIE McCULLOUGH | McCullough, based in Colorado, is the author of five books on home management. and

If you want your kids to work at home, it will help to set up some incentives. Yes, the basic rules for getting kids to cooperate are to write down assignments and to have a consistent time for work. But after setting up the program, you will need some motivators.

It is not cheating to "dangle carrots." Certainly, kids ought to do their work out of commitment, but they don't. Our economy is built on all sorts of incentives. For the child and the family, incentives can add fun and spark to otherwise boring responsibilities.

Offering rewards is a way to motivate children to reach for and accomplish goals. It teaches them to strive and succeed. After they learn that material rewards are worth striving for and after they learn to like the self-confidence that results, they are ready to move into the mature world of doing things for intrinsic reasons.

There are basically 10 kinds of incentives. You have to keep working to find the right blend of rewards to keep your child motivated. It is as though each child has his own secret combination and you have to find the right set of numbers to unlock them.

Good Incentive

Incentives are motivators from outside the child and can be anything the child likes: books, privileges, trinkets, food, or money. A good incentive may be needed in the beginning of training or to perk up interest, but it can gradually be eliminated. They start to become bribes, however, when the reward has to keep getting bigger to initiate the desired behavior.

Probably the most valuable reward for the child is to have time with the parent. Make time to share yourself.

Other motivators, that aren't necessarily promised rewards, make the child feel good. Verbal expressions of appreciation don't cost a penny. Train yourself to notice the good things a child does, comment positively on the part of a job that is done well, instead of just pointing out everything that is not done.

Little surprise love notes can do wonders. With just one little pad of Post-it notes, you could leave 50 comments of appreciation. This isn't something you would be doing everyday, but it certainly can add a little spark to your summer routine. In the same vein, you can occasionally award ribbons, certificates and coupons for household accomplishments.

A star chart, where the child gets a sticker for accomplishing each task, is a form of motivator. It can also serve as an intrinsic reward because as the child checks off each item; he/she is saying "I have finished this." The inspection chart is another form of incentive. Write down the expectations for the job whether it be cleaning the bedroom or doing the dishes, and value each step with a specific number of points. Occasional inspections show you care, they also give opportunity to express thanks as well as teach a higher standard of cleaning. On one occasion, I prepared an inspection chart for the children's bedrooms and required that for 6 weeks in a row, they have at least 40 out of 50 points. I inspected their rooms. They inspected my room. Saturday, after everyone passed, the reward was a family excursion to the swim pool or a picnic at the park.

Basic Routine

Work before fun gives incentive to get it done. Generally, a basic routine that must be done before school, television, or play is fair. The simple idea of having the child dress before breakfast helps him to do it in half the time it would take to dress after breakfast. (Food is the incentive.) Anything the child wants to do can be an incentive, but remember, not every privilege should hang on a mountain of work, because the motivation can be squelched.

Keep the incentive simple and reasonable. In the beginning, the objective is to help this child succeed and in the end, success is the greatest motivator. If you make a promise for a reward, you must keep it to maintain trust, but promises don't have to be made for everything.

Children want to succeed, but sometimes they need to know that their parents will help them with reminders, encouragement and love. Being a parent is not an easy game, and you're never sure that you have won.

Rewards and consequences are stimuli from outside to be used while the child develops the mature, intrinsic motivation and self-discipline from within. Incentives are fun because they can be planned with all the pleasure of anticipation or they can be spontaneous with the merriment of surprise, whereas consequences have to be logical, fair and consistent.

Every child will try out the rules. You need to be ready and have some discipline strategies. Consequences occur when the child makes a wrong choice. Natural consequences happen because of the nature of the world. It usually involves withdrawing the related privilege or restoring the undone as much as possible.

Be careful in the way you use discipline. Ask yourself: Is the consequence I am considering reasonable? Enforceable? Consistent with nurturing care? Is it too powerful? Is it clearly related to the offense? Will the child understand the connection between the misbehavior and the consequence? Is there anger, resentment or retaliation associated with your issuing this consequence? If the discipline is used carefully, it will help you and the child reap appropriate results.

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