Babble is partnering with PACER Center to help parents better understand and navigate the needs of children with mental health and behavior issues. This month, we’re talking about reinforcing and rewarding your child for positive behaviors.
Timothy practically ran through the front door, just like he did almost every day when arriving home from school. Tossing his backpack in the corner, he announced to his mom Wendy that he had no homework and promptly headed for the family room to watch TV. Wendy was skeptical but she was in the middle of making dinner and made a mental note to follow up later.
For the past few months, the subject of homework had been a running battle in the Johnson house.
Sure enough, after they were done eating, Wendy retrieved her son’s backpack and found three assignments inside his homework folder. “Timothy!” she hollered in an irritated tone. “Come into the kitchen right now and do your homework!”
Timothy ignored his mother, turning the TV volume even louder. Wendy strode into the other room and shut the TV off. Timothy stomped into the kitchen and angrily tore the homework sheets into little pieces. “I told you I don’t have any homework. Are you happy now?!” he said.
If you’ve ever found yourself locked in battle, trying to drag your child through another day of homework, you know exactly how Wendy was feeling – powerless. But the important thing to remember is that you can provide a home environment that encourages school success. Using Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a good place to start.
PBIS is a process that helps children learn how to behave appropriately by focusing on teaching, practicing, and rewarding preferred behavior. For PBIS to work well, it’s important to understand the meaning of your child’s behavior. Is Timothy just tired after a long day or does he need help with schoolwork?
Once you know the answer to that question, you can come up with an effective plan. Keep in mind, supporting positive behavior doesn’t mean you are going to change your child. It simply means you are changing the environment to support what the child needs, and teaching, reinforcing, and rewarding the preferred behavior.
Here’s a starter plan for parents who want to make the homework hassle a little more manageable:
1. Empty your child’s backpack.
To help your child stay on top of his or her homework, you need to know what the assignments are. When your child arrives home from school, spend a few minutes emptying the backpack. This is something you can do together, while talking through that day’s homework requirements.
2. Pick a regular place to do homework.
Children often have difficulty staying focused on homework and are easily distracted by whatever else is going on around them. It helps to pick a spot where your child always does homework – the kitchen table for example. By using the same location each day, it will be easier for the child to stay on task.
3. Agree on a time to do homework.
You know your child’s behavior patterns. Some kids need time to transition back home after a long day at school. Perhaps they need to eat or burn off a little energy before doing homework. Others might be more successful doing homework immediately before other things get in the way. The key is to pick a specific time when homework should be done each day. This will help avoid the verbal tug-of-war that often occurs between parents and their children.
4. Develop an incentive plan that works.
Most children respond well when you provide them an incentive to engage in positive behavior. Come up with a way to reward your child when he or she is following the homework plan you have worked out together. The two of you can develop a menu of incentives that might include time to play a favorite video game, toss the football around in the backyard, or spend time with you doing a puzzle. Keep in mind that these incentives should be time limited and offer immediate recognition. Perhaps there is a movie your child really wants to see, or a special meal he’d like you to make. Use these desires to offer a positive incentive.
It took some time but Wendy was eventually able to establish a plan that works for Timothy. She now checks his backpack daily, and stays in touch with his teachers. By supporting her son with a plan that encourages success, Wendy has seen the homework hassle diminish. From daily treats to weekly incentives, Timothy’s positive behavior is being rewarded. For Wendy, the turnaround in her son’s behavior is all the incentive she needs to continue with the new routine.
Is your child struggling with the homework routine? Does he or she have other challenging behaviors you would like to change? Please share your stories and offer ideas to help other parents.
PACER offers some great resources on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports at PACER.org/cmh. “Encourage Your Child’s Positive Behavior and School Success” is a helpful handout on the subject, along with the publication “Examples of Positive Behavioral Intervention Strategies.”