Help for Dads and Moms to Change Kids’ Behavior


“I’ve tried everything!” said Maria. “Discipline plans, behavior methods, every program I can find, but the kids are still not well behaved! What’s the secret? Can you help me, please?” In this case Maria was a teacher.

Dr. Pearson, our visiting professor and a successful principal in K-12 education, responded, “Tell me what you’re doing now with your kids and how well it’s working.”

Maria shared; she used a large chart posted up front with the kids’ names listed. Each student was given 10 points in the morning. During the day, points were taken away for misbehavior.

“And how well is that working?” asked Dr. Pearson.

“Well,” Maria said.  “It’s better than the last method, but still not real good. What would you do sir!”

Dr. Pearson’s response was surprising. “You’re close Maria, but there’s one change necessary to make it work with the kids!” He went on to explain. “Turn it around, and you’ll turn the kids’ behavior around.”

“Turn it around? What do you mean?” she asked

“Well…what you now have is a ‘take-away’ system. You see, when we give students anything, they consider it theirs. Then, the self-preservation of human nature dictates a strong resistance when anyone tries to take it away. Let me ask you. When you take points away, is there resistance Maria?”

“Oh yes, Dr. Pearson. They often get very upset, argue and…(she paused)…that sometimes makes it worse.”

Mr. Pearson continued. “Try turning your system around by starting them in the morning with no points.”

“What! No points?” exclaimed Maria.

“Yes, no points in the morning. Tell them they can earn as many as 3 points during the day with good behavior that you award. The power of self-preservation then kicks in differently. They no longer try to avoid getting caught doing something wrong, but try to get caught doing something good. The fight is no longer to protect points they have, but to earn good points they don’t have. This focus automatically replaces bad behavior.”


Catch good behavior

“There’s another secret to this approach not immediately evident,” he said. “It greatly impacts you, the teacher.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well,” he said. “With your current system, your mind is focused on catching and punishing poor behavior. But, with the earning-good-points mindset, you’re looking to catch good behavior that you can award. When you’re constantly catching them doing something good it changes your mindset and the whole atmosphere. Relationships with the students will change almost overnight. “

Not quite convinced yet she asked, “But…what if there’s still some bad behavior!”

“Well, it’s good to give them a chance saying, ‘Johnny! Is this behavior good, so I can award and give you a point for it?’ That will be challenging for him, but the power of self-preservation kicks in to save his self-pride and earn good points. Then, when you’re sure he’s turned, give him a good behavior point for correcting himself. Try it for a week and let me know what happens!”

Two weeks later Maria connected with Dr. Pearson. Applying ‘Self-Preservation Motivation’ for an extra week revolutionized her own attitude and class behavior. The students were now trying hard to earn good points, and beamed with pride every time she caught them doing something good. At the end of the week, she gave special awards according to their number of good points (like lunch with the teacher or principal). She also exclaimed, “We are now able to meet and exceed learning goals!”


At home

Even at home, kids love to see their name on a board. Make sure the points are limited but meaningful when awarded. You know your kids, so choose rewards accordingly. Remember however that money awards mean far less than time with you. They need ‘you’.


In marriage

Dr. John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venice, says that husbands and wives both award positive and negative points unconsciously. Even though a name on a scoreboard is a bad idea in this case, noticing good and expressing appreciation is an excellent idea.

He says that men need to understand women reward only one point for a big or little thing when done with love. So, it’s far better to do many little things than to do one big, expensive thing. For example, two roses (representing you and her), for six days before her birthday, is far better than giving a dozen roses once.

Dr. Gray shares that women need to realize, men also unconsciously award both positive and negative points. It’s emotionally painful for a man to ‘feel’ like they disappointed the lady they love. If she shares her appreciation and respect for effort and insightfulness, the man will go to the moon and back to do it again. The key is to share with respect and appreciation for what you like; you’ll get more of it. When it’s something you don’t like, try hard to say nothing at all. Silence is thundering…and motivating.

Self-Preservation is a powerful motivator of behavior. It can change our kids’ attitude and habits in the classroom and at home, and it can change the mindset of our marriage relationship. It takes effort and follow-through, but it sure can bring great rewards.

One more surprise: Try it on yourself and watch what happens.


Steve Davis, Ed.S. is an adjunct professor at Trinity International University and writes about personal development and education. He can be reached at [email protected].

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