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Positive Rewards and Consequences

woman hugging girl

Have you had moments of desperation?

Do you sometimes attempt to control or force?

Welcome to the club!

We all know intuitively that threatening or forcing children into doing what is right is not the best parenting practice, but it is actually quite common.

Let's take two steps together:

  1. Take a look at why we slip into threatening and guilting in the first place.
  2. Look for that middle ground where we lead our children to choose right and good on their own by focusing on being positive.

Using Threats and Guilt

Using threats and guilt in parenting may have more to do with the parents than the children. Are you in a hurry? Tired? Frustrated? Negative reactions are a lot about the reactor.

Embarrassed by our child's behavior (perhaps evidence of our supposed failure)--we may use threats and guilt for reasons other than correcting behavior.

Remembering Our Own Parents' Guilt Trips

Did we just invent these tactics? As much as we admire and love our own parents, it's possible we were raised with threats or guilt, and we simply reflect that now in our own parenting.

Do you have any memories of one of your parents saying something like this: "You can go ahead and wear that, honey, but you're hurting me deeply?" 

We might be slipping back into worn-out patterns, and we can choose things that work better.

We don't have to stay stuck in cycles of guilting or threatening our children into choosing what's right, right? Right!

"You wouldn't do that if you really loved me?"

"Didn't I teach you better than that?"

"Stop it right now or you're grounded!"

man carrying boy on shoulders

Avoid "Leave Alone, Zap!"

The opposite of noticing and praising good behavior is what Blanchard calls "Leave alone, Zap!" We ignore the good behavior but jump into action when we see something "bad." This can inadvertently teach children that bad things earn them wanted attention, while good things do not.

Apply Smart Research

Be conscious of your communication patterns. Positive consequences should be your first option and immediate. Dr. K. Richard Young explains, "Praise and positive rewards are better when we have a plan that puts specific expectations in place, praise is immediately given for the positive behavior, and we are consistent with our positive rewards."So telling our kids what we expect and then letting them know they've accomplished it is the formula for success.

Create Good Karma

We can actually teach our children to help us avoid using threats or guilt and to increase our use of positive consequences. Having a family home evening about the topic and telling the children we want to be more positive can contribute much to changing our behavior (which, in turn, will change the children's behavior, and further change ours). Round and round it goes, great Karma in the universe!

Administer Positives

What if we were to attempt to "administer" two positive consequences to each of our children each day? What might change in our homes and relationships? One parent who tried this said, "I was surprised at all the good things I'd been missing."

Praise Wisely

Positive consequences need to be honest. Unconditional praise like "Wow you are great at the violin. You are awesome! The best!" if a child has not practiced and mastered her assigned music actually undercuts the child's sense of self-worth. Unconditional (unearned) praise will eventually cause a child to wonder, "Does she really think that's the best I can do? Am I actually good at anything?" Make praise honest, specific, and immediate: "You worked hard on that passage you just played, and it is sounding great."

boy walking while holding hands of man and woman

Increasing the positive

You'll see an increase in positive behavior in your children as you increase your own positive outlook on their behavior. The saying "Respect begets respect" holds true in many areas of parenting. If we dial down the threats and guilt and turn up the positive consequences, our children will feel better about themselves and their abilities. They'll feel better about us and our parenting as well.


Marchant, M. & Young, R. (2005). 3 B's of effective parenting: Be proactive, be positive, and be consistent. Marriage and Families, (Winter), 18-25.