Noticing and responding to positive behaviour
All children and young people play up sometimes, and this can be challenging to deal with. However, to encourage their positive behaviour, it's really important to notice when they are behaving well.
When a child or young person behaves positively, give them as much attention as possible. This can be as simple as giving them a smile, a high five or saying "well done”. If you let them know consistently when they have done well, this will help to encourage positive behaviour. Negative behaviours should be given as little attention as possible, so the child or young person learns that there is no point in them continuing the behaviour. This will also help prevent the negative behaviour in the future.
You may want to use rewards to help with encouraging positive behaviour so the child or young person can see how well they are doing. Remember rewards come in many forms and are not necessarily material things such as money or toys. You can reward a child or young person by spending time with them and giving them positive attention, e.g. playing a game or reading them a story. For more ideas of things you can do, go to: https://www.youngminds.org.uk/parent/how-to-talk-to-your-child-about-mental-health/#Activitiesyoucandowithyourchild
Depending on the situation, children and young people could work towards a reward, rather than being given a reward immediately. Working towards a reward can encourage positive behaviour to continue.
With a star chart, a child is rewarded with a star being added to the chart when they behave in the desired way. Other ideas for charts could be adding spots to a ladybird or adding carriages to a train. For older children you may choose to add a further stage, for example after 10 stars the child may get an additional reward, e.g. a comic. Remember, it is important that the child is involved in creating the chart, to help them feel they have ownership of it.
How to make a star chart work
- Remember that the main aim of the chart is to reward positive behaviour.
- Make sure that a star is only given for desired behaviour.
- If they are not displaying the desired behaviour, don’t threaten them by holding back a star.
- Don’t give too many stars in a day, as this can make the exercise unrewarding.
- Use different styles of chart to keep the child interested.
- Don't remove a star once it has been earned as this can turn it into a punishment chart.
- If you’ve added an additional reward, keep the steps small and achievable.
Token reward systems
A token reward system is similar to a behaviour chart, except instead of giving a star, the child or young person receives a token which they collect towards a meaningful reward.
Although money is a great motivator, using your own tokens introduces more opportunities for different types of reward. This also allows the young person to negotiate their own rewards, for example, a favourite meal or having friends for a sleepover.
How to make tokens work
- Decide with the young person what you are going to use for tokens, for example, homemade cards, old buttons etc.
- Decide what behaviours will be rewarded and how many tokens they will get for each behaviour.
- Negotiate with the young person what rewards they would like to spend their tokens on and how many tokens each reward is worth. A big reward like a sleepover with friends will be worth more tokens than getting to choose their favourite meal.
- Write down your agreement together and each keep a copy, so there is no disagreement later on.
- Give them their tokens immediately after they have shown the desired behaviour.
- When they have collected enough tokens they can get their reward. If this is something they will have to wait for like a sleepover, give them a written note promising the reward at a mutually agreed time in the future.
- Do not remove a token once it has been earned.
- Remember that any token reward system should be set out in a positive way and it should not be used as a means to punish.
It is important to set limits and boundaries for children and young people, as this lets them know what is expected of them. However, children and young people will try to test the limits at some point, and it is useful to have consequences you can use at those times. For example, not letting them watch TV or do other activities that they enjoy, for a short period of time.
Using consequences can encourage children and young people to behave positively. Once a consequence is complete, a second chance can be offered to them to behave in an appropriate manner. For example, if they have refused to pick up their toys, you can use a consequence and then give them another chance to pick their toys up.
Consequences must be followed through. Never threaten something you are not prepared to carry out. Consequences should be balanced with the behaviour, in other words they should 'fit the crime'. If using consequences, it is important they should be used consistently whenever the undesired behaviour happens.
How to make consequences work
- Be realistic about how much a child or young person will meet your expectations. For example, don’t expect teenagers to always keep their bedrooms tidy - this is their opportunity to express their independence.
- Don’t be too harsh in deciding on the severity of the consequence - make sure the consequence is balanced against the behaviour.
- It is important to follow through with consequences, e.g. if you have said there is no TV for an hour - do not let them watch TV until the hour is up.
- Be consistent in applying consequences.
When these approaches might not be suitable
- Children and young people with attachment difficulties may not benefit from the approaches above. They may have a need to feel in control in order to feel safe, and may not relate rewards with positive behaviour. Also, not rewarding (e.g. not gaining stars or tokens) might result in resentment, retaliation or feelings of rejection. Instead, it can be helpful to talk about limits and boundaries in a positive way, so that a child or young person knows what to expect and feels safe.
- If a child or young person feels insecure, and may see themselves as ‘unworthy’ or ‘bad’, these approaches may reinforce this image of themselves. Reinforcing positive behaviour with love, affection and praise might not be appropriate for them. It may helpful to think about their feelings of insecurity and the reasons for this.
- If a child or young person has a learning disability, or does not show an understanding of rewards and consequences, you may need to change your approach to promote positive behaviour.
Parenting resources from Moodcafe:
Positive Parenting leaflet from NSPCC: