The Power of If-Then Thinking

I have discovered the power of If-Then thinking as a way of changing or regulating behavior in my children. And, oddly enough, the idea came to me after listening to a woman talk about how she got herself to exercise.

She told herself, “IF it is Wednesday after dinner, THEN I exercise.” Using this thinking, she lost 30 pounds! A to-do was tied to a neutral activity…. Hmmm this could work for kids

How It Works For Children

A desired behavior or needed routine is tied to a reward. The child gets the reward as soon as the target behavior is performed! After careful consideration, I have come up with some If-Then thinking guidelines to create success.

1. Tie only one target behavior to a reward.

2. No add-on’s. Once the target behavior has happened, so does the reward.

3. The reward has to be meaningful to the child.

4. It would work best to focus on one target behavior at a time.

Breaking It Down

You have to break down a behavior into steps. This is called scaffolding. Once you have pinpointed the desired steps, then you can begin to reinforce the target behavior with if-then thinking. You can substitute “when” in the “if” spot quite easily.

“If your teeth and hair are brushed, then you may have breakfast.”

“If you are ready for school, then you may watch a program.”

“When you are done with your homework, then you can play outside.

“When you finish dinner, then….”

Making them wait for the reward and completing a general task first teaches them to delay gratification and responsibility. If the first task is not completed, the second doesn’t happen.

And the best part is that it’s not your fault!! It is the designs fault. You can be very empathetic, but leave it up to them! “I’m rooting for you!” or “You can do it!”

The Silver Lining

There are a couple of goals for all of this practice and rewards-based thinking . The first goal is to teach your child to function independently! You don’t need to be with them in the bathroom every morning making sure teeth and hair are done. They need to learn that there is an appropriate time to complete that task, and that it is done in a sequence. Ahh, routine building!

The second goal of If-Then thinking is to teach children that while not all activities are fun, they are necessary. Being able to do something that you don’t want to do is a sign of maturity.

The qualities being taught are the same qualities neccessary for strong executive function .

Cleaning the kitchen is not fun, but it is necessary if you want a clean and sanitary home. Putting clothes away is not fun, but it is a necessary component to basic organization and cleanliness.

Sadly, I know a few adults who think that everything SHOULD be fun. They are very unhappy, and live in conditions that are dirty and unkept. They live as though they are still children; waiting for someone to do the “work” and then “play” with them.

I want more for my children!

If-Then thinking can be a valuable tool you can use to teach your children maturity, responsibility, and delayed gratification. It will teach them that life is a balance of “if” activities (the needs of life) and “then” activities (the wants of life).

So, think of a behavior you wish you could change, and try it!