Children between the ages of 10 and 12 are often referred to as tweens. I know that my step-daughter was thrilled to hit double digits because then she was officially a tween. What that meant to her specifically, I’m not really sure, but what it meant to her father and I was that we were staring down the very short road to teenage angst. While tweens are still caught between wanting to be a child and are occasionally okay with being treated like one, it won’t be long before nothing you say will get through their hormone-riddled brains as they become teenagers. The trick to hopefully maintaining a good kid through adolescence is to start while they will still hug you in public sometimes.
Define Your Goals
The first step you, as a parent, need to do is to define your goals. When thinking about positive child behavior, you need to know what you are looking for before you can reinforce it. This isn’t about trying to get the child to perform a positive behavior but rather to show that you have noticed good behavior after it has occurred. Defining for yourself and your children what you consider positive behavior to be is critical to making sure they are striving for it over and over.
Doing What They Like
One way to reinforce positive behavior is to increase the frequency of being able to do something they like. If you are looking to reward the fact that your child keeps their room tidy by throwing away trash and putting laundry in its proper place, then you may be able to keep that behavior rolling with the promise of an afternoon at the movies. Taking the time once a month on a weekend, or even weekday, afternoon to take your child to a movie at the theater (don’ forget the snacks!) is a great way to grow your relationship with them while encouraging the positive behavior. Kids are incredibly varied in what they like to do so the trick is to pick a specific behavior that they have shown the ability to do, figure out what they would like to do as a reward, and then try to include time together in that reward. It will be a win-win all around. Please make sure, though, that you are consistent in the reward. If you start to come up with excuses as to why you can’t go to the movies, you are in for a load of trouble.
Another means of reinforcing positive behavior in your child or tween is to add or increase the amount of privileges that they are allowed. Using privileges as a reward system can work in the opposite direction as well, that is to say that once a certain amount of privileges have been built up, taking away privileges can be a means of punishing a child for negative behavior as well. Focusing on reinforcing positive behavior is always easier on everyone, however, and an example might be that as a reward for diligence in getting their homework started before a certain time of afternoon/night they will be allowed to choose the dessert for the meal the next night. This works well in a family with a few children around the same age because it can lead to a little healthy competition, especially if they like very different things for dessert. Finding something to motivate them can be difficult sometimes, especially if the positive behavior you are trying to reinforce is hard to come by. As always, be careful in how you word your positive behavior expectations because it can potentially put undue strain on the child. For example, if we were to say that the child had to have their homework DONE by a certain time instead of simply STARTED, that might be more difficult to accomplish if their homework is in their hardest subject or requires some outside assistance.
Cold, Hard Cash
While not my first choice for reinforcing positive behavior, using money as a reward system can have its benefits. If used correctly, a monetary reward system can teach your child valuable lessons about spending and giving and saving, especially saving as a means to delay gratification rather than debt as a means of instant gratification. One way that my husband and I like to reward my step-daughter is for times when she plays with younger sisters, maintains the peace, and allows me to get extra work done. In these instances, I haven’t asked her to do anything other than what she already enjoys to do, but I am showing my appreciation for time and effort in spending time with her sisters and we use a somewhat random monetary system for compensation. Rather than leading her to believe that she is babysitting her own sisters, we never let on that we are thinking of giving her extra in her allowance until after the fact and not every week. This way she understands that we appreciate her without cheapening the bond that she has with her sisters.