To motivate young children to listen the first time, use creative, positive reinforcement. You probably remember trying to earn a sticker on a chart when you were young. A sticker chart is simply a visual graph that help the child to see that he did something he was supposed to do. This reminds the child that he succeeded once – and that gives him confidence that he can do it again! It also teaches the parent to hunt for and give attention to the child’s positive behaviors, and it shows the child how close he is to accomplishing his goal.
You can use creative, visual motivational graphs that are far more fun than stick charts. One such idea is to make a construction paper shark with an open mouth (like the one in the photo), and place it on the wall with sticky tack. You can protect your shark by covering it with clear contact paper on both sides so it lasts. That’s what I did.
In front of the shark’s open mouth, place a row of individual fish, like this:
<– fish <– fish <– fish <– fish <—HUNGRY SHARK
Each time your child does a specific positive activity, like eats his vegetables without being reminded, move the shark over so the shark gets to “eat” another fish.
When the shark has eaten all the fish, the shark is no longer a hungry shark, but a happy shark! Have a celebration with your child!
Things to Remember
1. Be specific about the individual behavior you want to reinforce. “Being good” is too general. “Brushing your teeth after breakfast” is specific. A child can understand that.
2. Decide on the celebration beforehand so your child will be excited and motivated.
3. The celebration should be simple and if possible, require your time and attention, but not money.
Examples: giving your child a piggy back ride, playing a game together, going on a wagon ride around the block, dressing up for a tea party on the patio, having a “picnic” of cheese cubes and apple slices while sitting on a blanket underneath the kitchen table, etc.
5. Once the child has earned a star/point/sticker or movement on the graph, do NOT take that reward away even if he backslides. Once earned, always earned. You can provide other consequences for misbehavior if you must, but never take away what he has earned.
6. Use positive words that reinforce those specific desired behaviors. The more your child sees himself as a “good listener” or “a big helper” or a “terrific reader,” the more it becomes engrained in his sense of who he is.