Nov 5, 2012

Behavioral Modification is not just for Rats

This is a part of a series I started a couple years ago called "Discipline is a Discipline".  It was only 5 posts long, but in it I talked about all sorts of different facets of parenting, from the different between rebellion and independence all the way to spanking. 

It is also a kick-off to a new series called "Parenting Excellently", which will be about Intentional Parenting.

In one of those posts I shared these definitions:

discipline: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
punishment: to impose a penalty on for a fault, offense, or violation
correction: a bringing into conformity with a standard
(these definitions retrieved from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

I think that the idea of "intentional" parenting is what I strive for.  I am parenting with a goal in mind.  My goal is to create holy, helpful, independent, successful people.  What is your goal as a parent?  I know some parents who don't seem to have much of a goal besides "happiness" for right now and survival, maybe that is all they can manage because of the hand life has dealt them.  

I would challenge that way of thinking!  It doesn't take too much to make your parenting intentional... just find the purpose, set the goal, create a strategy, keep your eyes on the end result and don't allow other people distract or discourage you from that strategy.

Part of that strategy might include extracurricular activities, part of that strategy will include effective discipline.  Effective discipline teaches our children personal responsibility and independence.

I strive to discipline and correct my children more than punish.  Though sometimes punishment is what happens.   I honestly think that most punishments like spanking or the removal of privileges can be either punishment or discipline depending on the motive and purpose behind it. 

If my 4th grade son loses television because his grades are slipping (or he isn't doing an good job on his homework), you could say we are penalizing him for poor grades or poor effort.  However we make it clear to him that we view television as a distraction, and something that he rushes through his homework to get to, in that way he may feel punished, but we are also disciplining him...  by removing a distraction so he has adequate time to complete his homework. 

Most effective parenting is designed around the concept of behavioral modification.  Which is a way to change behavior based on outcomes and the child's response to outcomes.  For example: if you fail to study for a test and get a bad grade, you will lose television and do an extra credit project for that subject.    Most children will respond unfavorably to this discipline.  The goal is to train them to study correctly the first time, then they don't have to do extra work.  

It's exactly what scientists do in laboratories when training rats.  In fact when I was in Jr. High, I did an experiment where I built a maze for rats and ran them through the maze four times.  One group of rats got a treat halfway through and then at the end.  The second group of rats got treats at the end.  Can you guess which group learned the maze faster?  That's right the group with the treats halfway and at the end, or the group with the most positive reinforcement.  

This is what chore charts and behavior charts are all about (those links will take you to two different ideas for behavior charts).  They spell out expectations and provide positive reinforcement for the behaviors you want and sometimes they explain what will happen if they child fails to show effort to reach those expectations.

So, here is another behavior/chore chart that has been working with my 7 and 9 year old kids.  I hate to repeat myself or nag my kids to do what they KNOW they should do.  So, I created a list of expectations, and allow them to be responsible for them.   I can post a tutorial of how to make this if anyone is curious (just ask).  It's a table in Microsoft Word.

As you see above there is a +/- at the bottom.  The way it works is this: they start the week with 100 points, for every day and every responsibility, they get either a +, a check or a -.    

They get the plus sign for a job well done, I don't have to ask them or remind them, and I don't have to do it myself. 

They get a check mark for a job done as expected.  They do the job with minimal reminders, and they do it adequately.  

They get a minus sign if I have to remind them more than once, they do the task with an attitude or I have to do it myself. 

At the end of the week I add up the columns and the final amount I either add to or subtract from 100.  Then they get to buy things from the point store (this is my son, B's idea).  See below...

As you might have noticed, they each have a couple of chores each day.  Cleaning the bathroom consists of making sure towels are hung, the counter and sink is wiped out and the bathroom looks neat.  Setting the table is putting plates, napkins, silverware in appropriate places, getting drinks for everyone and being my kitchen helper (placing bowls of fruits and veggies on the table, helping getting everything out at the last minute).  They unload the dishwasher, just leaving the sharp knives and anything they can't reach easily.

I will admit that some weeks I am not very good at keeping up with the points... sometimes I just give them 100 points because I have failed to keep track all week.  If my hubby keeps track they always lose points.  If I keep track, they seem to gain points (not sure what that means).    But the kids come out to the kitchen repeatedly to see what else they need to accomplish on their "list"... which is wonderful for me, so I don't have to continuously remind them, which means less nagging and a more positive start to the day!

I also put their charts in "page protectors", which you can buy at a Target or Walmart in the office supply row, I stapled the top so they don't move and use dry erase markers on them.  Works like a charm! :) 

How do you keep your kids moving without nagging??


  1. This is my first season in an empty nest, so it's been interesting to see how my daughters do in the "real world." Although there is room for improvement, I thank God that they are both independent and doing well on their own. I do miss them, but I'm glad they're doing what I raised them to do.

    Keep up your good work with intentional parenting!

  2. i like this... :) been trying to get something like this going for my own children--again. i like your list.

  3. Wow this couldn't come at a better time! We are in need of some behavior modification in our house and we will use this system, thank you ! If you happen to have the table for the chores we would
    Blessings, Susie

  4. I really love this, I've tried to recreate it, but it doesn't look nearly as nice as yours. Would you be willing to email your word file? Let me know! Thanks!!

  5. Hi there! I'd love to start such a thing in my house. Would it be possible to get this table from you so I may edit for our needs?

  6. Hi there - did you post the tutorial of how to make this in WORD? If so
    could you let me know where it is? Thanks! Love this idea!

  7. Hi! I was wondering how many points you give for a + and how many do they lose for each -. I'm assuming nothing is given for a check mark. Thanks so much!


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