Step 2: Help Your child want to do what you Expect
Your next challenge is to make it good – provide reinforcement – for your child to comply with your expectations. Theoretically, you could follow your child around all day and reinforce every success as it occurs. In practice, since you cannot be with your child all the time, this isn’t possible. Nor would it be good for your child if you could, since an important aspect of maturation is learning to tolerate and accept delayed gratification.
But if you don’t reward your children instantly, how can you take advantage of the vital power of reinforcement? What you do is essentially the same thing that happens in the adult world: for each unit of work an adult completes, he or she earns a portion of a paycheck, and for each item on the target behavior list your child completes, you provide a defined number of “credits.” For example, when Brittany has her room suitably cleaned by noon on Saturdays, she earns 10 credits. Over the course of the day, she can earn as many credits as are included on her target behavior list.
But why would your child want to work for credits? Here also the answer parallels what happens in the adult world: just as an adult can trade portions of a paycheck for goods and services, your child can trade credits for some object or privilege of interest. Your challenge, then, is to establish a system that will allow your child to receive suitable reinforcement, even when you are not at hand all the time.
Assign Credit Values for Each Target Behavior
To develop an effective system, your first task is to go item-by-item through your target behavior list to determine how important each item is so that you can assign a suitable credit value to each. It is important to consider this task both from your own adult perspective and from your child’s perspective.
For every parent, there are likely to be items on the target behavior list that are of considerable importance, and there might be others that are of interest but not as compelling.
For instance, for a family living in a high crime area, an item such as “Aaron, you are successful when you are in the house within five minutes of being dropped off at the bus stop” may be considered critical for the parents. For the same family an item such as “Aaron, you are successful when you have all your toys picked up from the family room by 8:00 p.m.” may be desirable but not nearly so critical.
Your Child’s Perspective
Similarly, for every child there are some tasks that might seem very burdensome and there likely are others that might be an inconvenience but not a big deal. For example, even though an item such as “Nicolas, you are successful when you clean the backyard of all dog waste by noon on Saturday” may take only a few minutes to complete, Nicolas may really hate doing it. On the other hand, while it might take much time and effort to complete an item such as “Nicolas, you are successful when you have the entire back yard mowed by noon on Saturday,” the boy may actually enjoy doing it so it would require fewer credits to nudge Nicolas into action.
Once you have determined which items matter most and which items make the biggest demands on your child, weigh all such factors and assign credits to each task, using your best sense of the level of reinforcement required for your child to succeed on each item as well as for the program as a whole.