The Best Behavioral Motivator of All


When parents and professionals design behavior plans for children and teens they often offer an incentive for the child to “earn” if they engage in a desired behavior. Parents often ask me what they should offer their child for these incentives. The truth is the best motivator for everyone is recognition and praise. We all want to be recognized for our accomplishments and praised for our efforts.


We need to keep in mind that children with neurodevelopmental differences often hear negative comments about their behavior and performance. They are acutely aware that they are not measuring up to expectations. Many kids are starved for positive recognition.


When I suggest to parents they use recognition and praise as a reward, many will say, “My kid would never accomplish a task for just saying ‘good job!’” The truth is, many of us don’t ever say, “good job.” We say, “That is a good job but….you missed a toy on the floor, that sock isn’t matched correctly, I didn’t want it there I want it here,” etc. These comments are not praise and recognition. They are a continuation of the criticism and commentary that they child did not do something “right.”


The way to motivate someone with praise is to make a request, such as “Please pick up your toys,” and let your child get started on his own. After a few minutes, even if he has only picked up one toy, you check in and say, “Wow, good job! I see you are making an effort. Let’s keep going. Please put two more toys away.” When those toys are away, praise the efforts again, “You are really on fire with this clean up project! Keep up the good work!” Kids will eat this up and keep going just to hear your words of praise over and over again.


This can work with teens as well, but they prefer recognition for their efforts. Again, you ask them to do a chore, such as putting the dishes away. Your teen puts away the dishes, but not all in the exact location. Instead of coming in and saying, “C’mon, you know know the cups go in the cupboard!” telling your teen  she made a mistake, you come in and say, “Wow, thanks for your help with the dishes. You saved me some time and I really appreciate it.”If your teen is the hugging type, add a hug in for good measure. (PS: You can move the misplaced cup later in the day.)
If children feel their efforts are appreciated and recognized and not another set up for failure and criticism they will be more willing to help around the house.