Though Valentine’s Day has passed and the end of Black History Month is upon us, the ongoing COVID–19 pandemic, racial reckoning and winter storms have left much of the United States in a state of increased stress. There is no better time to show some love to our kids and teens who are undoubtedly affected by the stress of the parents, caregivers, and teachers around them. Here are a few ideas to show some love to the kids and teens who are working so hard to keep learning and growing into their best selves this year:
Praise is the expression of approval or admiration for someone or something. Praise comes
easily to most. Many people say “Thanks!” or “Good job!” when things are going well, but we
rarely get more specific than that. A labeled praise is actually a much more powerful
relationship-building and behavior-changing tool, and all it takes is a few more words. For
example, instead of saying “Thanks!” when your teen clears the dinner table without being
asked, make your praise even more specific. Try, “Thanks for taking the dishes over to the sink. I really appreciate the help!” Just be sure that your praise is genuine and sincere, and you’ll soon find that your kids and teens will practice those praised behaviors more frequently.
A prize is anything given as a reward in recognition of an outstanding achievement. Parents,
mental health providers, and educators alike use prizes frequently for younger children (think
sticker charts & bins of small, inexpensive toys), but kids and teens of all ages can benefit from the use of prizes to encourage ongoing positive behavior. For instance, a young child might want to earn extra spending money to use on a new game they’ve been wanting. An older teen might be more motivated by their favorite smoothie or coffee drink. The next time your child or teen finishes all their homework, tries out a new sport, or even remembers to make their bed all week, try asking them about what kind of prize they might want for their hard work. Be sure that the prize is age-appropriate and attainable, and be sure to use your labeled praise skills (see above) to tell them how they earned their awesome new item – this way they will know how to keep up the good work.
Another great way to motivate and reinforce good habits is to provide privileges. A privilege is any special right that adults can give to kids to further support good behavior. Any preferred activity might serve as a privilege to earn after doing less preferred activities. Most kids and teens are highly motivated by extra screen time on their smartphones, tablets, or computers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that school-aged children and adolescents have 2 hours or less of sedentary screen time daily. If your child or teen usually has an hour of screen time after school, perhaps they could earn another 15-30 minutes when they complete their homework. An older teen might even be able to earn time driving the family car by completing their schoolwork and household chores.
Keep showing your kids and teens some love! By using praise, prize, and privileges, we can all show our kids and teens some more love as they work through this difficult time. If you are in need of additional support to develop a good system of reinforcers for your child or teen, please consult with a mental health provider who specializes in behavior.
(2016). Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(5), e20162592.
© Erika J. Vivyan, PhD. All rights reserved.