You hear often that there is a time and place for everything. I see
it at my local warehouse-type grocery store all the time. Some child
behaving badly and a parent promising to buy the little darling a
treat if they "can just keep it together until we get to the
car." Many parents even have the system worked out ahead of time
with poker chips, check marks, or even money as the prize for good
behavior. Of course, bad behavior means the loss of the same dear
item and the bountiful harvest.
Some parents are on to the faulty logic, realizing that some of the
techniques they use to manage their children's lives no longer work
after some unseen milestone or over time.
Yet, can behavior modification work at all when trying to instill
good habits or attempting to break bad ones?
In my humble estimation, No! I have certainly used behavior
modification with my own children and even in some schools that I
have worked at. I have seen great gains made with behavior
modification in small children when the desired outcome is to get
them to read, practice piano, or take out the garbage. However,
behavior modification fails as a standalone training method because
of what it suggests.
Before we get to the suggestion part, let's look at the places in
which I have seen behavior modification work. A friend of mine gives
his six-year old son a quarter every time he looks a new friendly
acquaintance in the eye, shakes hands, and says hello. So,the drill
might look like this: Little Tommy comes over to visiting Pastor
McCready, staring right into the old reverend's peepers, and bellows,
"Fine sermon, Reverend. Thank you for coming."
Now don't misunderstand, it's important for children to be
"raised right." Eye contact and a proper greeting may be
one of the more important things that you can teach a child. It may
even dramatically improve civility in Western Civilization. However,
what I am suggesting here is that the good reverend just became a
quarter on its way to a nice model train engine from the local hobby
shop. That doesn't mean that Tommy will always see his new friends as
dollar signs, but the odds aren't so good. It's like having a
stereotypical stage mother (or parent, to be politically correct) as
your guide where almost everything is done to please someone else and
where people are seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
There may be people who would argue differently with me, and I'm
willing to take them on. Behavior modification (checklists, marbles,
money, chips, etc.) offers a temporary stopgap to reasoning. As
training, it is least effective for teaching the true value of people
and things because children do because they know they will get
something in return, rather than for the intrinsic value of a thing.
That's why good grades and test scores may get you into college, but
it will not make you a true learner or a person who is naturally curious.
Like my good friend, you may very well get respectful kids, but it's
always done at a price.
If a child is rude, he or she needs to know that being rude is not
cool. Should kids lose things for bad behavior? You betcha!! A child
should not be rewarded for awfulness. However, should the technique
of gaining and losing things become ingrained by bribes and
punishments? Probably not.
Making your child see the importance of what's valuable to you,
rather than getting him or her to win or lose at things, is the key
ingredient in this recipe.