Encouragement & NLD

Rewards (and punishments) will often work with NLDers, or with kids who have ADHD (aka executive function, or XF, disorder) over the short  term. Most kids learn to "game the system" after a while and focus on  the reward (or avoiding the punishment) rather than what they are  supposed to be learning. Or parents (or teachers) find, as some posters  have noticed, that the stakes keep going up from year to year. Or kids  just get bored with rewards and stop trying.

But the bottom line problem with rewards and punishments (and the  withholding of a reward can be viewed as a punishment by the child) is  that they don't usually teach responsibility. They can TRAIN a child to  do a prescribed task (or not do something) again over the short term,  but in my experience this sort of "whip and chair" conditioning does not  foster long-term progressive growth of self-reliance, self-confidence,  or self-esteem. YMMV, of course, as in all things.

What has worked for us over the long haul is encouragement.  Encouragement is a term of art we used in the parenting class I used to  teach. Encouragement (and I've posted about this many times before) is 
a systemic way of catching the child doing something right, describing  in some detail what you saw, and telling the child why what he did (or  perhaps refrained from doing) was good or important. You encourage  accomplishments, of course, but you can also encourage hard effort or  improvement over time. This means that you can encourage a child even  when he fails at something. You can't praise the child who comes in  last in a race or who DOESN'T hit the home run - but you can encourage  that child so he will try harder next time. 

Encouragement helps the child become more responsible, more  self-confident, and more self-reliant over time. It can work with  preschoolers and teenagers (and adults for that matter). Example: My 
teenaged NLDer brought the trash cans up from the curb yesterday morning  without being asked (mirabile dictu!). I came in the house after work,  sought him out, and encouraged him: "Son, thanks for bringing the trash  cans in. I'm impressed that you remembered to do this yourself. Good  job." No money changed hands, no points were awarded, but do you think  he'll be more likely or less likely to remember the trash cans next week? 

You can encourage a preschooler who brings you his art work to admire:  "I can see you worked really hard on this. I see a lot of colors! Is  this the sun up here? Tell me more about this picture." Or let's say 
your 5th grader has failed a math test, getting 17 of 25 problems wrong  (been there, done that!). Most parents yell at the child; I've done this. You can encourage him instead by starting out focusing on the 8 
problems he got RIGHT. He worked hard; maybe he improved from last  time. Tell him this; connect his effort with his accomplishment. Then  ask him why he thinks he got the other 17 problems wrong, and what he thinks he needs to do to improve. Put the responsibility on HIM to come  up with a plan to improve. Would he do this or listen to you if you  started out yelling? Probably not. Would he then improve his performance on the next math test? What do you think?

Note that in each case the CHILD is responsible for his actions and you  are merely reinforcing in a positive way what the child has done, not with candy or stars or money but with ATTENTION, which children crave more than anything else on the planet. Encouragement is positive  attention paid to an accomplishment, an effort, or an improvement. 

We all bribe our kids once in a while. Sometimes it works, over the  short term. Encouragement takes time to show results (you know it's  working when your kids start using it on YOU!) but over time, it can be more powerful than almost anything else to build character,  responsibility, and independence. Kids never get tired of it, and it's fun and easy to do. Try it! You'll like it!

Larry Blim