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Incentivizing Children to Behave Positively

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Rewarding a child for positive behavior is kind of a tricky subject, because it is a balance that needs to be found and managed. Too many rewards can have a negative effect, making a child believe they are owed something, just for behaving. However, if it is applied with a measured approach, it can teach children good habits going forward.

The first step to a successful reward system is to understand the mindset behind why you are doing it. Some parents have said they avoid rewards because they don’t want to ‘bribe’ their children to behave. It’s understandable why they can see it that way, but with a different perspective, rewards can be used as incentives to help children learn. Think of it as a tool in your parenting toolbox. Not every situation needs a hammer, but a hammer has a purpose and intended use. Rewards work the same way. If it’s not employed in a manipulative manner, it avoids becoming a bribe.

A great way to start a reward system with you child is to establish a rewards chart early. Understand the negative behavior you want to wean them off of and what positive behavior you want to foster. For instance, if your child is having trouble putting their toys away when they are done, the negative behavior is being messy while the positive behavior is cleaning up after themselves without being told to do it. If treated properly, this behavior goes beyond just toys and is employed through other aspects of their life, breeding a general desire for tidiness. Essentially, you want your child to think ‘I can clean up my toys on my own, so I can do the same with my clothes.’

An important thing to keep in mind is that the positive behavior you are looking for should be something age appropriate and manageable for your child. If it is too easy, a lesson isn’t really being learned. With a task that a child sees as achievable, it is more likely they will see it through than if it is too overwhelming for them to wrap their head around. Small successes help a child grow and breed a desire to accomplish more. If a child is given a task they don’t really believe they can actually do, it’s far more likely they will walk away from it, regardless if there is a reward waiting for them at the end of it.

As your child achieves and completes goals, it’s a good idea to evolve the reward system. Over time, increasing the challenge of the goals as they learn and grow will help them gain understanding about what can be accomplished, instilling a desire to learn more and a desire to complete more difficult objectives.

Creating a framing device for your system can help a great deal as well. Kids love to use their imagination and it can create an interest in doing something they may not have been interested in before. Say for instance, your daughter loves princesses. If you want her to clean up her dirty clothes, frame it as, “We’re going to have a tea party and the guests are on their way. We need to make sure the royal tea room is ready for them to arrive!” With the end reward being a tea party, it just gives a little incentive to get the job done, while keeping you involved and a part of the reward.

When designing your goal system, it’s a good idea to involve your child in determining the rewards they would want for completing a task. It’s pretty tough to motivate someone if the reward they get isn’t something they want! Some good examples of rewards would be small items like stickers and coloring books, special privileges like a sleepover or choosing dinner for the family, a fun activity like going to a movie or the zoo, or some special time with a parent like the tea party we described.

In making your goal board, assign point totals for tasks completed and lay out exactly how many points will be needed to reach a goal. You can assign specific rewards to specific tasks, or keep track of points and let the kid decide on what reward they want. If there’s something really big they want, this is also a good way of teaching how to save up for something. That creates the foundation for learning about the value of money early on, prior to actual money being involved. For instance, a coloring book could be worth five points, but a new video game is worth 60 points.

We recommend creating an actual, physical goal board that is in writing and in your control. Having a way to keep track of progress is important to both parent and child. Some parents make goal boards for each positive behavior they want to teach, others combine them all into one. It’s really a matter of personal preference and how much separate calculation you want to do in tracking achievements.

When tracking these goals, it’s recommended to go over what was accomplished at the end of the day for younger children and at the end of the week for older kids. At the start of a rewards system, it’s a good idea to monitor the behavior to ensure the tasks are being completed properly. While this may be a considerable time commitment, it is putting in place the building blocks needed for the behavior to take hold without your supervision. If they don’t understand how to do it right when they start, it’s more likely that behavior will be avoided or ignored. Once completed, show the child that the task is being tracked on the goal board. That shows something has been accomplished prior to a reward being given.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is how your statements are worded regarding the incentives. It sounds much more like a bribe when you say “You can have some chocolate milk if you stop screaming.” This ends up rewarding the child for the negative behavior instead of the positive. By establishing the reward program early, it sets the expectation that only positive actions will result in positive rewards.

Test out one goal board with one solid goal at first. This will ensure the child doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks ahead of them. As they accomplish things, unlock new tasks and rewards previously unavailable to them. That gives a sense of progression to the accomplishment while measuring out the amount of goals and their difficulty at a manageable level.

A reward system is just one of the many ways you can incentivize your child to behave in a positive way and works well in conjunction with other teaching methods. Helping motivate children early on to accomplish goals can help instill a drive in them that will last long into adulthood. And if you’re a dental office looking to provide a rewards system to reward children for good behavior, look no further than Treasure Tower! There is no better way to reward kids, encourage good behavior, and build confidence than by owning a Treasure Tower for your medical or dental office, restaurant, salon, or school. Call us today!