Yesterday, I referenced “incentives” that we give Claire as a reward for good behavior. Today, I thought I’d share what some of those are. There was a time when Fruit Snacks held all the power in the world over her, and we’ve moved on from those days…which is fine, because I feel uncomfortable using too many food-based rewards. (That’s another blog post in and of itself…)
And, with Santa’s visit just around the corner, “Being good for goodness’ sake” should be good enough…but it rarely is.
The incentives I give to Claire are easy to understand, easy to accomplish and something that she really wants. And, isn’t that what goals are all about?
When it comes to toddlers and preschoolers, each situation is a little different, so I try to fit the incentive with what we’re going to be doing.
For example, when we go to the grocery store, if she’s good, she gets to ride the pony after we check out. The pony costs a PENNY. For real. Cost to me? Minimal. A PENNY! It’s on the way out of the store, so I don’t have to go out of my way. The result? Claire is really good at the store.
Target, on the other hand, doesn’t have an awesome pony to ride for a penny. Well, Target does have a Princess Aisle. (No, it’s not named that, but you’ll know what I mean when you see it.) If Claire is good, we get to walk through the Princess Aisle and look. Cost to me? Zero. We’re not buying anything in the Princess Aisle. We’re looking at the wonderful Princess Paraphernalia. And, I usually go through the store so that the Princess Aisle is at the end, so it’s not out of my way. The result? Claire is really good at the store.
What about a specialty store? No ponies. No princess aisles. Well, this is where things get a little trickier, but with a little forethought and planning, an awesome incentive can be put into play. (In yesterday’s example, I let Claire hold the bag from the store. The actual bag. I took the items out. Sometimes, she begs to hold receipts or my shopping list. Perfect! You’d be surprised at what is important and exciting to a preschooler!) If I can’t think of anything specific that she can do at the store, I let her bring one of her favorite toys with us in the car, usually one she doesn’t normally get to bring. The toy stays in the car while we shop, and if she’s good in the store, she gets to hold the toy when we get back out to the car. You’d be surprised at how well this works if you really play up how special all of this is.
Another item in my Incentive Arsenal is the drinking fountain. Claire is mesmerized by drinking fountains and will do pretty much anything to get to drink out of one. I use this to my advantage. She used to throw a fit when we had to leave the gymnasium after the hour-long playtime was over. Now, the threat of not getting to drink from the drinking fountain is so much worse than putting on her socks and shoes, that she usually does so without complaint. (Of course, getting her away from the drinking fountain is now a challenge, so I usually have a two-tiered incentive system in place that day.)
The key to getting these incentives to work is to be firm in not rewarding the wrong behavior. If an incentive is in place, and if after one warning she still shows blatant disregard for it, she doesn’t get the reward. Period. No pony rides if you’re naughty. There will be no trips through the Princess Aisle if you’re naughty. The special toy we brought with us goes in the trunk. Drinking fountains can only be used by little girls who act the way they’re supposed to. Period.
Another caveat? Any whining or crying for something is the perfect way to not get it. We ask politely for things with the understanding that we may or may not get what we want. Yes, the whining or crying escalates in that very moment if the answer is not to her liking, but you know what? The more times she doesn’t get what she wants by crying, the quicker she realizes that crying for things won’t work, and the less it happens.
Along with this is another incentive I haven’t mentioned that pretty much works in any store. You get to stay in the store and shop unless you throw a fit. If you throw a fit, we’re leaving. As the person who is needing whatever items we’re there for, it’s super-annoying to me to have to do that, but the alternative is worse.
And, like I said, it didn’t take her long to figure out we mean business. Actions have consequences. She has a choice on how to behave, and I have no qualms being the disciplinarian, but I also have no problems rewarding good behavior.
So, I’m happy to report that these incentives work for us. This coupled with the positive outlook make our outings enjoyable. Things are constantly changing around us, so I’m always on the lookout for new incentives to work into our routine, and I usually follow her lead on things she really enjoys doing and seeing.
And, the best part about all this? She gets what she wants, and I get what I want. It doesn’t get much better than that.