5 Tips to Develop a Reward System that Works With Your Kids

May 24, 2021

by carol evenson, guest contributor

Research has shown that rewarding children for positive behavior and allowing them to experience natural consequences for negative behavior is much more effective than punishment. Additionally, behaviors that kids learn through positive reinforcement tend to stick and evolve into lifelong habits.

The simplest way to move toward positive reinforcement in your home is to institute a reward system for desired behaviors. Here are a few tips to help you move in a positive direction.

Keep It Simple

Parenting is hard. You probably have days when you can barely manage to grab a cup of coffee and slap on your Thrive patch in the morning. Don't allow your reward system to become another complexity in your life.

Identify what tasks you want your children to complete daily, decide what behaviors you want to increase, and brainstorm what rewards will motivate them. If the child completes their tasks and meets their behavioral goals, they earn rewards. If they aren't successful, then they deal with the consequence of not having the privileges they could have earned. It can be that simple.

Don't Give Anything Away for Free

A common mistake many parents make when they begin a reward system is thinking that the rewards need to be monumental. You don't have to fill your calendar with special events, but you do need to reassess what you consider to be a right and what you consider to be a privilege in your home. Children have the right to food, shelter, safety, support, and security. Pretty much everything else is icing on the cake.

If your kids have unlimited access to the TV, their phone, the video game systems, the trampoline in the backyard and every toy they own, you are giving away the best incentives you have. A reward system links simple positive behaviors like making the bed or doing homework with incentives like 30 minutes of video games or inviting a friend over to play on that trampoline. You must begin to think of all those little things that your kids enjoy every day as privileges that need to be earned.

Know What Your Kids Want

Be sure that you are individualizing your rewards to your children's desires. If you do not choose the right incentives, the program simply won't work. For instance, some kids would move mountains to get a half-hour of video game time, making it a perfect program-dependent privilege. However, if your kid doesn't care about video games, he's not going to be motivated to earn them.

Make it Age Appropriate

The type of reward program that you create should mesh with the ages and abilities of your children. Younger children do well with simple tasks, short-term goals, and tangible rewards that they earn daily. Older kids and teens can handle more complex tasks, less immediate goals and a token economy that allows them to earn daily privileges along with saving tokens toward special rewards at the end of the week.

Stick With the Program

When reward programs fail, the fault often lies with inconsistency on the part of the parent. If you decide that a certain privilege can only be enjoyed if your child completes a certain task, then you have to stick to your guns. Every day. If you set a long-term goal with your 13-year old that states that if she keeps her room clean for a week you'll take her shopping for a new comforter set, then you must follow through, no matter how much you don't want to go out. Consistency is the key to success.

Behavioral programs that offer incentives can be amazingly effective in teaching children responsibility for tasks and can have a huge effect on behaviors. Remember to keep the program simple for both yourself and the kids, tailor the program to your kid's interests, and be consistent. Adjusting to the new program will be challenging at first, but within a short span of time, you will begin to see results that will justify the effort.

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