Intermittent Reinforcement: A Single Mom's Master Weapon

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Intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful reinforcement out there. To effectively interact with your children you must learn how to harness this amazing power. 

So what exactly are we talking about here?

Let's break it down:

Intermittent - Happens on occasion, off and on, random, sporadic

Reinforcement - Reward, encourage, boost, strengthen, establish a pattern of behavior

When you put these 2 terms together, you get the most impactful way to manage behavior.

Don't believe me?

Let me give you the very best example of intermittent reinforcement known to man.

This form of intermittent reinforcement has been known to destroy families, fortunes, and people. It is a bazillion dollar business with entire city and state economies built around it. What is it?

It's Gambling.

Yep. Everyone from little old ladies with bingo cards to multi-state jackpots, and kingpin 24 hours casino owners stake their cash on the chance they might win in the end. 

Your kids are no different. 

Think about it.

The opposite of intermittent, is continuous. What happens if you give your child a reward every time they do what you want?

That would look like this: Every time they do the dishes they get a new toy. Every time they make their bed they get to go to a friend's house. Every time they do their homework, they get a dollar. 

What happens when you provide rewards at this level and schedule? 

You're kids expect more and more, leaving you to up the ante to get the desired result. From your kids perspective, if homework is worth a dollar, a test ought to be worth 10...right? If a test is worth 10, then an exam should be 20. If an exam is worth 20, advancing to the next grade should be $1000. And Christmas just got a whole lot more expensive. I think you get where I'm going here.

The other problem with this approach is that once the goods are gone, so is the motivation, and the outcome. And since your kids are only in it "for the money" so to speak, they don't get to develop intrinsic reasons for taking action. They miss out on the joy of a job well done. The pleasure of serving others. Pride in their work and efforts.

Not only are you locked into a reward structure that you can't possibly maintain, but you have created a little monster. And that little monster has been robbed of the ability to build character and delight in who they are and what they can do, or function in the world at large.

Conversely, what happens if you never give reward? Your kids end up feeling disheartened, frustrated, unappreciated, and undervalued. Basically, they just give up.

How to deliver intermittent reinforcement in 4 simple steps

Step 1:

Think about what behavior you actually want to see, and how often you want to see it. 

Step 2:

Explain the expectation to your child. If they come out of the gate looking for a reward you are going to have to do some 'splaining. It's a great teaching moment, but it is not easy for you to do, or for them to hear. Be strong!

Your kids are best served when they come to understand and appreciate that their family is a team, and they must do their share. By doing their share they get food, clothing, and shelter. When everyone does their share the burden is not on just one person, and everyone gets more free time to do fun stuff. (And mommy is not tired and grumpy.) Further, they will one day have their own home, and they need to learn the skills necessary to live in it on their own.

Step 3:

Apply praise generously. Let them know you appreciate their efforts and validate what they have done correctly. (I provide the exact formula for giving praise in my free guide The 7 P's of Positive Parenting.)

Step 4:

Once in a while...give a reward. It can be something simple like, "You know what? You guys have been working hard and keeping up on your chores. Everything around here looks great! Let's go to the movies.

Your kids will beam with pride in their accomplishments and contributions both as a result of earning your praise, and receiving those intermittent rewards. Further, you are teaching your kids the life skills they need to live their own, and you are teaching them how to be good parents themselves, when that time comes. 

When you are parenting alone, you need all the tools in your toolbox that you can get. Grab my free guide The 7 P's of Positive Parenting and replace confusion and frustration with peace and harmony by bedtime tonight!

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