Removing a reward instead of threatening a consequence

Interesting twist on behavior modification, from Jill:

I read this on another blog in the comments, so it isn't my idea BUT I plan to use it quite soon!  Removing the carrot instead of threatening the stick…

To successfully grocery shop with children, first put into the cart something they like to eat.  It can even be something you usually buy anyway; it doesn't have to be special as long as they think its special.  If they misbehave, threaten to put it back on the shelf.  If you really do put it back when they break your rules, they'll quickly learn that the treat won't make it to the car, let alone the house.


  1. Rob says

    We use a variation of this in our home. First, we’ve agreed with our daughter that she can have 5 M&M’s each evening as a treat after dinner. So each night we count out into her hand the 5 M&M’s. However, if she’s been punished for something she has to then throw 1 or more of those into the trash.

    We’ve found this to be an effective training tool since the loss is more tangible than if we just doled out less M&M’s.

    I’ll also say that we aren’t fans of using food/treats as a reward. But this method instead employs loss of treats as a punishment.

  2. WWBD says

    This is a form of negative punishment – the removal of something good to decrease a behavior – and one of the hardest concepts for my Psych 1 students to get! No matter how many times I say positive is to add (+) and negative is to remove (-) for both punishment and reward I still get examples of negative punishment like spanking and they are absolutely flummoxed by negative reinforcement! Sorry for the OT rant, but this drives me crazy every semester!

  3. Chris says

    Got to love B.F. Skinner and Operant Conditioning. :)

    Different types of punishment and reinforcement are VERY useful when dealing with children.

    My degree is in Psychology, and my wife occasionally wonders if I’m messing with my son’s mind, but the example above is a good example of negative reinforcement (removing the goodies to hopefully create a more positive attitude in the future.

  4. Julia says

    The grocery we use has a horse that you can ride by the check-out area that only costs $.01 per ride. So at the beginning of each grocery store trip, I give my 2.5 year old daughter her penny for the horse. If she misbehaves, her penny is removed and she can’t ride the horse. On occasions when she’s behaved particularly well, I will reward her with an additional penny for a second ride (assuming their aren’t other kids waiting to ride the horse.)Generally works like a charm.

  5. Sandy says

    Believe it or not, an apple is my threat. We walk in the store and my kid gets to run ahead and pick an apple. If he misbehaves, the apple goes away. He has fructose malabsorption, so that apple is a real treat for him although there are some side-effects that we have to manage after.

    Our friends use a bag of dried fruits or the veggie chips as the treat/threat. The kids get to fill up their bag of the dried fruit or chips (their choice!) in the Safeway veggies section.

  6. Danielle says

    This has never worked with my three boys. The prize is too close. Their attention is one the prize not their behavior. So when it gets put back. All hell breaks loose. I have had far more success with engaging the kids in shopping, talking with them about the options, colors, ingredients and being in the moment and using it for learning and curbing tantrums. If they show they know how to behave well, they get the treat I was buying anyway sooner than planned.

  7. ChristieNY says

    Ditto Danielle, we often do the same thing.

    In fact, sometimes I’ll dangle the carrot and make the thing he wants (and would get anyway) the last thing we get at the store instead of the first. Today it was Life Cereal.

    He was talking about it the whole time and I skipped the aisle and got it last, and he was such an angel the whole time.

    Based on his mood, I can usually tell if he can wait until the end or if I should get whatever it is he’s asking for (that’s already on our list) and let him hold it until we check out – he’s only 3 afterall.

    The removal of a good thing though doesn’t work for him, it just makes “all hell break loose” as Danielle put it. Time outs work best for us to curb negative behavior. The book 1-2-3 Magic has been a lifesaver for us! :) :) :)

  8. Cathy White says

    Pure genius. This will work like a charm with my 4-year-old. I still have to figure out what to do with the 18-month-old. She’s a firecracker.