An effective reward system will encourage your child to actively participate in developing good behaviors. They will learn the consequences of their actions in an environment that promotes affirmation, rather than being told no or stop all the time.
This could be a refreshing change for both you and your child. Especially if the toddler years have worn you down. Through some creative planning, you could break any negative patterns that may have crept in, and return to being a positive supportive parent.
The Chart System
The idea here is that we track the progress towards a reward with something that can be put on display. This makes it an easy reference point in discussions with your child, plus it will have a presence of mind effect if your child can see it regularly… A reminder to be on their best behavior.
You can get creative with what the chart is. It can be their favorite cartoon character running towards something (the reward), a race between siblings moving toward the end goal etc. Have some fun with this and make your chart an activity in itself.
The more you can involve your child in this process the more engaged they will be with the path to rewards. But if you are short on time, just print a chart and stick it up on the fridge.
Tips for your Chart Reward System
1. Set Clear Goals
Get specific, and take things slow. If you try to change too much it could become confusing and overwhelming for your child.
Start with one or two behaviors that matter most, and are easiest to change. You want this to be immediately positive for everyone involved if it is going to last.
Maybe you can start with getting to bed on time, or waking up on their own for school. Keep it simple to start off with.
2. Set the Reward Ahead of Time
This may sound obvious, but defining the reward at the start will help keep everyone interested. Toys and candy are the easy go-to options, but you can also go for non-material items like inviting a friend over for the day.
Be creative when looking for rewards… Or if you want a sure thing just offer a puppy for Christmas.
3. Set the Numbers of Stickers Needed
We need to avoid disappointment inm anything that is not a direct result of negative behavior. So be clear on what will warrant progress on the chart (adding stickers is an easy option to track progress), and how far the path towards the reward will be so there are no surprises.
4. Make the Goal Achievable
The number of stickers required must be attainable within a reasonable timeframe so that interest is maintained.
Children have a short attention span so the more opportunities for positive reinforcement the better chance you have of retaining engagement.
With this in mind, it is probably best to start with a smaller reward. Don’t offer an iPad that will take a year of perfect behavior to earn.
Ice cream on Sunday after a good week may be more appropriate.
Let’s not complicate this too much. Just ask them what they want… You will need to keep things reasonable of course.
6. Remind the Child of His Goal
Putting the reward on display in the house can be great motivation for your child. As long as it doesn’t result in them nagging you for early release!!
Linking requests of your child back to your rewards system conditions that positive thinking. Their desire for your approval and the pending reward can spring them into action.
7. Give immediate feedback
Once your child achieves the targeted behavior immediately provide positive feedback, and recognize this with chart progress (the stickers, or whatever you have chosen).
Accompany your child as he put the pins or stickers on his chart and count how many more stickers to hit the goal.
This is a ritual they will look forward to and take great pride in.
8. Always Be Consistent
Always reward your child when warranted. If you do not follow through it can be a source of that disappointment and be discouraging.
Inconsistency is sending the wrong message.
Jar Reward System
The Jar Rewards System is an entertaining alternative, that moms can find easier to maintain.
- A glass jar. Choose the size appropriate for your child.
- Items to fill the jar such as marbles, cotton balls, yarn balls, or small pom poms. You can make your own or buy at any craft store.
- You will use this to mark the jar.
- A board to write the rules and reminders.
How to Use the Jar Reward System
1. Define what Earns, and loses a Marble
Instead of stickers on a chart, we are talking marbles in a jar. When they meet a defined behavior, they add an extra marble.
The jar marbles are like money in the bank. You can both deposit and withdraw based on the positive or negative behavior.
This may be more suitable for slightly older kids so the concept can be fully understood.
2. Agree on what reward to give
See points early on defining your reward. All the same applies here.
3. Agree on when to give it
Filling a jar could be a very inexact way to go about this. Remember you want predictability and short term reinforcement to get that engagement.
You can go for a certain number of marbles, have staggered lines of the jar to fill up to marked with ink or a rubber band, or just fill the whole thing up.
After writing this there are so many parallels with adult life. In fact I can relate any number of conversations I have had managing people in the workplace that sound exactly like this. But instead of ice cream on Sunday they get a bonus. Instead of losing a marble they could lose their job.
These are life skills we are trying to teach them. You are helping your child understand that the choices they make will define their experience in life. That sounds very deep for a reward chart, but that is what parenthood is about. Giving your child a strong foundation to build their life on.
This is our burden to think about though, not your child. So above all make it fun and exciting for them, and make sure you are not stingy with the ice-cream.