The Magic of Routines

by Anise Flowers

Routines can be a magical way to decrease childhood behavior problems.  I would even call routines a form of discipline.  The modern definition of discipline involves obeying rules and punishment.  However, the word’s Latin origin means “instruction, knowledge.”  Daily routines can instruct a young child on appropriate behaviors, thus preventing unwanted behaviors.  Many families have routines in the morning, the evening, after school, and at mealtimes.

Maybe in the time B.C. (Before Children), you found it difficult to leave the house on time in the morning.  And now that there are one or more little people in the mix, this task is exponentially more challenging.  So, having the same sequence of events for breakfast and dressing from day to day can be very helpful. 

An instruction like “it’s time to get ready for bed” won’t elicit the behaviors you want unless the child knows the steps involved.  If the same actions are performed in the same order every night, then the child can learn that set of behaviors as a routine.  Consistent routines (for example clean up toys, bath, pajamas, brush teeth, story, bed) can set clear expectations for a child.  

In the preschool years, short routines can also be used teach to new skills such as toileting (cue the Daniel Tiger potty song!) or proper teeth brushing.  Dividing a complicated skill into smaller parts can teach the behavior and can also promote fun.  For example, the child learns to make 3 funny faces (Say “cheese”/smile, Say “Ah”, Stick out tongue) and the adult can accomplish cleaning their teeth.

Child thrive on consistency and will often ask for something to be done in the same order every time.  Saying goodnight to my 4-year-old is a process because he always wants the same sequence of events (spin, throw into bed, tickle, kiss, say goodnight).  And at the end of the day, structure not only teaches behavioral expectations but also promotes feelings of security.  Happy routine-making!

Is it Bribery?

by Anise Flowers

Parents often speak of “bribing” children into displaying certain behaviors. The promise of candy or prizes is offered in exchange for cooperation.  Is this really bribery?  A bribe is defined as “money or any other valuable consideration given or promised with a view to corrupting the behavior of a person.”  Often bribes are gifts given to a politician in exchange for some inappropriate/corrupt behavior.  So if you promise your child a cupcake after their haircut, is that a bribe? Or is this a reward rather than an attempt to “corrupt the behavior” of a child?

Positive reinforcement (rewards) are a natural part of life for both children and adults.  Sometimes adults reward themselves after reaching a goal (like losing 20 pounds).  Often employers give bonuses or rewards for a job well done or reaching a career goal.  Generally, adults don’t refer to a company as using “bribery” to motivate their employees.

Parents would love for children to be internally motivated to pick up their toys, get dressed on time, stay in bed at bedtime etc.  But sometimes an external motivator/reward can be very helpful.  Just like adults work for monetary compensation, children will often “work” for stickers, treats, or a new toy.  Gaining cooperation through use of small rewards is often more pleasant and effective for everyone as the alternative is more yelling/reprimands/punishment.  In addition to tangible items like an edible treat or small toy, effective rewards can be an experience like playing a favorite game with a parent or staying up 15 minutes later at bedtime.

Sometimes, a child may feel anxious about a new experience like a haircut or a visit to the dentist.  In these cases a reward can be a welcome distraction from the anxiety provoking experience at hand. For example, a child can look forward to visiting a favorite playground instead of focusing on the uncertainty of a doctor’s appointment.

Calling a reward a “bribe” makes it sound like you are doing something wrong or illegal as a parent.  But remember that you are not corrupting a politician.  You are doing your best to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. And using rewards in the process is perfectly alright.