Believe it or not, having fun can actually be an incredibly helpful tool in getting your child to behave in ways that you want them to. In the therapist world, this is called pairing. But to all of us parents at home, we just call it rewarding and having fun!! We all know that there are highly motivating items and activities that your child loves to engage in. For some kids this is Legos, for some, it is dress up, and others it is cuddling up in bed with a story. As a parent knowing these motivating items and engagement in them can be an amazing opportunity to reinforce good behavior. You can finally have relief in knowing that you don’t always have to be the “bad cop” to get what your child to behave in the way you want. Here is an outline of effective ways to use playtime as a valuable enforcer.
Engage in the Activities They Prefer
Your child has certain preferences as we talked about prior (legos, dress up, storytime). During times you intend to reinforce and reward good behavior, engage in those preferred activities. Rather than just allowing you kid to play with legos, do it with them yourself. Getting involved yourself helps your child directly correlate their behavior with you, and also allows you some fun happy bonding time with your kiddo. It may seem uncomfortable at first for some parents to dress up to crawl on the floor, pretending to be a horse but ignore that inclination and just enjoy seeing your kiddo smile. These are the moments you will end up cherishing most.
Remove Demands and Have Fun
Reinforcing, fun time should ideally be as carefree, and to state the obvious, fun as possible. Demands and reprimands should only really be used when safety is a concern. If you do have to reprimand or interrupt fun time make sure to do it in a way that is least “repremandy” as possible. For example, if your kiddo starts to chew and such on a permanent marker when coloring, rather than yell at them to drop the marker try transitioning them away from the marker by taking it away and giving them something else safe to chew on instead. Now of course if there is a serious safety hazard ignore these tips and make sure your kid is safe first and foremost. However, for most situations, there can be ways to stop your child from doing something without interrupting your fun time. Additionally, try taking precautions before playtime begins by removing hazardous items. This way you won’t have to yell “Don’t touch the outlet” as you will have already covered the outlet. These simple adjustments within the environment help eliminate verbal demands on your child and allow the time to be filled with as much uninterrupted fun as possible.
Let's Wrap It Up
Fun time can be an awesome reinforcer, but only if you do it correctly. Remember to engage in the activities that your child loves and prefers. Don’t just watch them get involved yourself!! Additionally, remove as many demands as possible. You can do this both before playtime but additionally during it as well. Following these two principles are going to not only allow you and your child to have more fun but also make your rewards stronger reinforcers. Lastly, Don’t forget to take a deep breath and stay positive because you rock as a parent!!
Alexandra Hakeem Is a Denver based BCBA. In her free time, Alexandra enjoys snowboarding, volunteer work, and hanging out with her nieces and nephews.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.