How do I get my kids to do what I say without being negative?

Rewards are extrinsic motivators.

By Dr. Kimberley Bennet




about the doc

“I try giving positive rewards for good behavior, but it feels like my kids don’t listen unless I threaten to take away something.  How do I get my kids to do what I am asking them to do without being so negative?”

I love how motivated you are to parent in ways that are positive, and, a result, are trying to use rewards rather than consequences. With the families I work with, I actually try to guide them away from using rewards or punishments with their children… largely because they don’t work longer term. It sounds as though this is what you are noticing.

Threats don’t feel good to us as parents or to our children. Each threat can be experienced as a rupture in our relationship, and if it works (short term), it only works because of the fear that someone with more power is going to do something that the child doesn’t want to happen. Often when we rely on rewards or consequences what we notice is that we have to keep upping the ante. The rewards have to get bigger and more exciting to keep our children interested. And the threats have to get louder and more substantial, too.

Rewards are extrinsic motivators. That means the motivation for doing (or not doing) something is external to the child. What is more effective is increasing their intrinsic motivation by tuning them into the why. Why should they be motivated to tidy up their toys, or why it is important to brush our teeth (because if we don’t tidy up our toys they might get lost or broken, and because brushing our teeth keeps them clean and healthy).

From these examples you might notice that we can guide children to recognize what motivates them intirinsically by talking about natural consequences. We want our role, as parents, to be our child’s guide in tuning them in to making the right choices for themselves. Our relationship with our child should be central to everything we do. Our connection to our child is the most powerful tool we have for influencing their behaviour. There is a phrase in the positive parenting world “connect before you redirect.”

So, a little tweak in our language can help with this. Instead of saying

“If you don’t get out of the bath now then I won’t read you any bedtime stories!” (a threat)

We might try saying,

“Bath is fun, but it’s almost bedtime.” (That’s the connection piece) “I’m worried if we don’t get out of the bath soon, we won’t have enough time to read your bedtime story!” (tuning them into the natural consequence).

Ultimately, we want to communicate to our child that we are both on the same team. We want our relationship to be collaborative (rather than combative which is how parenting with rewards and punishments can feel).

I hope this helps!

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