Utilizing Rewards in Parenting
I’ve worked with children for almost twenty years. Starting back (way back!) in high school up until now as a mental health therapist.
One of the most difficult questions I receive from parents is wanting me to give them blanket advice. The problem is no parenting advice is one sizes fits all. Each child is different. And each family dynamic needs tailored tips.
But an area that can be particularly muddy is the use of rewards versus consequences in parenting.
I will often get the question, “Should I use rewards or consequences.” My answer usually is “Yes.”
Both are important. Both are necessary. And different situations may warrant different approaches. But more importantly, you have to understand your child and their temperament.
Consequences seem to be a bit more intuitive on when to use. A child behaved in a manner that is opposite of what you, another authority figure, and/or the law deemed appropriate. Thereby a consequence results.
When using consequence it is important that they are natural and logical consequences for the negative behavior and situation. I wrote a full article on natural consequences that you can read here.
Rewards, however, are not as intuitive. And they are not as easy to provide blanket answers.
It’s also important to remember that praise is a form of a reward. So rewards don’t always have to be a physical, tangible item. They can be incredibly basic.
But even with that in mind, some parents are completely against the use of rewards. Stating, “My child should just do what they are told without needing a reward.”
My answer to that is yes and no.
First, there are very few things as an adult we do without rewards. We just may not realize it. When we work we get paid. That one is clearly tangible. But so many others are internal rewards. When my house is clean my emotional well-being is more calm. That is a reward and motivator to me.
We need to meet our kids where they are and work towards getting them to where we want them to be. In order to do that we need to understand the differences in our children and their temperaments.
We need to meet our kids where they are and work towards getting them to where we want them to be.
Some kids may not need formal reward systems.
However, children who struggle with anxiety or who are more strong willed may benefit from a system. Some kids also do better with the reward prior to completion of the task – like a dangling carrot. Other children need the reward immediately following completion of the task so it reminds them of the benefit. As the child matures, the reward may be able to be extended.
Ultimately, the desire is for rewards to be more internal and self generated rewards.
Examples of Reward Systems
It’s also important to note that children have a tendency to become easily bored. I will have parents tell me that the reward system worked great for a couple of weeks and then it no longer seemed to have the same result. That doesn’t mean that rewards don’t or won’t work for the child. It just might mean that they need a rotation of rewards.
By rotating motivation or reward systems they will continually have new incentives.
Sticker charts– for following directions or completing chores your child will receive a sticker. At the end of the night the stickers can get added up for rewards: play a game with parents, 15-min later bedtime, an extra bedtime story, etc.
Game pieces– have a large “game board” posted on a wall. Each positive day the child gets a game piece to tape to the board. Once they get to the finish line they get something special like.
Jigsaw Puzzle – Take a picture of the end reward. Blow up the picture and print it out. Cut it up into puzzle piece shapes. Each positive day the child gets a puzzle piece. Once the puzzle is complete they get that reward. (I’ve also seen this done on a much larger scale for a big family vacation.)
Penny jar- Your child gets a penny for completing tasks or following rules. Parents will have a designated chart for “prizes” to buy with the pennies that the child can “cash in” at anytime but better prizes will cost more.
Point cards- Your child earns points for positive behaviors and negative points for inappropriate behaviors. At the end of the day the child totals up to see what privileges they have access to. The child also can total up twice a day if the rewards need to be more immediate.
Banker- Utilized the same way as point cards only with toy money that the cashes in at the end of the day.
I pray that this post provides relief that there is no one “right way” to utilize rewards. Each child and family dynamic is different.
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