Tag Archives: rewards and consequences

“A Healing Place”: Part VI


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.

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“A Healing Place”: Part II

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I continued with the workshop, referring to Bruce Perry (as I so often do) as I addressed what Rachel had described to me as the caregivers’ discouragement. I told them that the parts of the brain that influence this problem behavior “have been shaped over many years with hundreds and thousands of repetitions”, and that traditional therapies that typically take place in 45 or 50 minute sessions at a frequency of once a week cannot be expected to reverse years and years of traumatizing experiences (Perry & Hambrick, 2008, p. 39). I wanted to talk about changing the brain in healthy directions and how that improves behavior, but mindful of the role of consultant and the necessity of staying close to the caregivers’ stated concerns, I addressed the need to respond to problem behavior “right now”.

Changing Behavior Right Now: Think Ahead

(1) Know the child. (2) Make realistic expectations. (3) Anticipate problems. (4) Prepare for transitions. (5) Be predictable, but not too predictable. (6) If something is not working, stop and try something else. (7) Resolve conflict. (8) Give rewards and consequences.

I will go into detail in the first point in this posting and continue with the subsequent ones in the following postings.

Know the child:

It is important to keep in mind the child’s strengths and weaknesses, and also to remember the child’s story of pain. The role of the child’s traumatic background is easy to forget when you are dealing with his problem behavior, but it is important to bring it to mind now and then, because it can help you with how to respond. First of all, remembering the child’s story of pain can refresh your empathy for the child. Second, it can help you identify “triggers” or special challenges for this individual child. For example, a child who has been sexually abused will often be triggered (have a traumatic reaction) to certain kinds of touch or to intrusive behavior (someone putting his or her face too close to the child’s face, or looming over him or her). Remember what I said about children on the autistic spectrum. Often these children will also react violently to someone coming in too close.

Again, channeling Bruce Perry, I emphasized the importance of special relationships – For traumatized children, “The relational environment of the child is the mediator of therapeutic experiences.” (Perry & Hambrick, 2008, p. 43) In fact, in the fortunate case that there are multiple good caregivers available, such as is true at Love and Hope, the child may choose one person who can help him feel calm, another whom the child can rely on to be firm, and another who can help him have active, rough housing kind of fun. This is not so different from what happens in families, especially big families.

We know that it is also important for the relationships that partners make with each other – such as adult partners or even close friends at any time in life – to include a mix of these functions. That is, we would not choose a partner or close friend for whom we could not rely on both for fun and also for comfort. Yet these children may require time to put it altogether, and a “family” environment in which these relationship functions are offered by different people is often a first step.

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Read this blog in Spanish.