Rewards and Consequences
It is important for each caregiving system to decide ahead of time about the rewards and consequences that are given in response to particular behaviors. It is true that the rewards and consequences must change over time to be consistent with the child’s developing capacities and needs, and that they must be adjusted to fit the individual child, but having a list of rewards and consequences written down somewhere where all can see is a decided advantage. This clarity of expectations minimizes threat in that child and caregiver both know what reward or consequence follows from what behavior, so that the child anticipates the result of his behavior and the caregiver does not have to think something up on the spot, and also the caregiver gains support in facing the child’s anger and aggression through being able to refer to an established set of rules.
When choosing consequences, it is also important to remember that small consequences are often as effective as large ones, and they leave more room in which to make a subsequent response. If you move quickly to the “nuclear alternative” and the child does not comply, you have nowhere to go from there.
Another consideration is acts of reparation. Some children get stuck with their caregivers in a painful negative pattern of mutual self-punishment. No matter how awful the consequence, they can’t seem to back down. Children (and caregivers) rarely learn anything good from this experience. It is sometimes better in these cases to help the child repair the rupture in the relationship caused by the “bad” behavior through some small act of recognition or kindness towards the injured party. It might be a note, a picture, or a small helpful task. These reparative acts are also particularly good in cases of two children in conflict with each other. They can restore a child’s self esteem and help him or her feel like a “good person” again.
Supporting the Caregivers
Finally, it is always important to support the caregivers. Helping children behave is hard. Resolving conflict is stressful. Dealing with anger and aggression takes a lot out of you. You cannot anticipate everything. What is the solution? Communicate with one another. Try to understand each other. Give a hand in comfort to each other.