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The Power of Positive Consequences

You've probably heard and read that positive consequences can work wonders to encourage good behavior in children. Positive consequences can be tailored to any child of any age. But what's the difference between a positive consequence and a bribe?

If I Give You What You Want, Will You Do What I Ask?

Let's start with the bribe. A bribe is giving or offering your child something in exchange for positive behavior, before the positive behavior occurs. For example, "You can use the car this weekend, but you have to promise me you'll do your homework Sunday night," is a bribe. Likewise, when a child is throwing a tantrum in line at the grocery store, telling him, "Here's the candy bar you want. Now quiet down," is bribing your child to be good.

Using bribes tells children they can get what they want by misbehaving or not doing what you tell them to do. Bribing children also sends the message that you don't expect good behavior all the time; children think that if they behave just this once, they will be rewarded.

If You Behave Well, You'll Be Rewarded

Using positive consequences, on the other hand, demonstrate that you expect good behavior all the time and that when a child behaves, he or she will be rewarded with extra privileges. Kids who receive praise and positive consequences are more likely to cooperate with you more often. Moreover, positive consequences, unlike bribes, often cost no money and are effective over a wide range of behaviors.

Not every child will respond to the same positive consequences. Something that is a reward to one child may mean nothing to another child. Nevertheless, there are myriad opportunities to use for positive consequences. Find what works with your child and use it.

Another tactic is to pair positive consequences with the good behavior you're trying to teach. For example, if your teenager meets curfew three weeks in a row, reward her with a curfew that is a half-hour later one night. If your child gets ready for bed on his own, without complaint, then let him stay up later one night. When children know they'll be rewarded for positive behavior, they are more motivated to demonstrate it regularly.

Possible Positive Consequences

  • Staying up late
  • Having a messy room for a day
  • Staying out later
  • Having a friend over or a sleepover
  • Having extra TV, video game, phone or computer time
  • Doing one less regular chore
  • Staying up late to read
  • Eating special snacks
  • Getting permission for a special event
  • Choosing the breakfast cereal
  • Having extra time with friends
  • Using the car
  • Going to the mall, library, park, etc.
  • Sleeping in late 

Sometimes, even our best intentions as parents aren't enough. Positive consequences can be powerful incentives, but only if they are used consistently and regularly so that kids learn how to behave and what to expect when they make the right decisions.