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Common concerns about giving kids rewards
July 25, 2013, 10:23 am

Parents have a lot of concerns about a reward system as a behavioral modification technique. Sometimes a reward program takes some creativity to make it effective and it should be tailored to each child's temperament. It can be a very effective tool, especially when other discipline strategies aren't working.

A reward is not the same as a bribe: A reward is given after the child exhibits good behavior. Telling a child prior to going to the store, "If you follow the rules today, I'll let you pick a treat on the way out," constitutes a reward. Rewards should target specific behavior and are usually pre-planned. Parents should also set the rules about rewards and not allow kids to say, "I'll be good if you buy me something." Rewards are healthy for kids because they learn that privileges and extra incentives must be earned. Bribes teach kids to use their behavior as a way to manipulate others. Although bribes can be tempting as it can make kids change their behavior immediately, it doesn't teach appropriate skills over the long haul. In real life, you don't receive your paycheck until you have done the work.


Reward kids for behavior they should be exhibiting anyway: There are lots of behaviors that can be addressed with reward systems and sometimes kids need a little extra help learning new skills. They certainly don't need rewards for every single good behavior, but rewards can help motivate them as they address specific behavior problems. Rewards can target new skills that kids are learning, such as anger management skills. Until they master these skills, a reward program can motivate them to change their behavior and practice the skills you are teaching them. Eventually rewards can be phased out and replaced with praise.


Reward system do not necessarily spoil kids: In fact, reward systems can be a great way to teach kids that privileges need to be earned instead of automatically granted. Positive consequences motivate people of all ages. Most adults go to work to receive their reward in the form a paycheck. Similarly, kids can learn that good behavior will lead to more privileges or extra rewards. In that sense, reward systems can actually prevent kids from becoming spoiled as they will learn the value of things when they have to earn them. Rewards should be used within reason. Kids don't need to earn lavish rewards every day. Instead, younger kids can benefit from a simple sticker chart. Older kids can benefit from a token economy system that allows them to exchange tokens for larger rewards.


Long term benefits of reward system: One of the biggest mistakes parents tend to make is not looking at their long-term goals. Although reward systems do take some extra work in the beginning, they can make a big difference in your child's behavior. If you invest a little extra time now, it will mean you will need to spend less time disciplining in the future. Don't make a reward system too complicated. Only focus on a couple of behaviors at a time. Otherwise, it will get really complicated to try and keep track of behaviors and points all day. A simple reward system should clearly outline the target behavior or behaviors you want addressed and the rewards your child can earn. For certain behavior problems, it makes sense to monitor the behavior over a certain period of time. For example, if you want your child to work on getting along better with his brother, you might choose to really only target this behavior after dinner, if this is when the most problems seem to occur. Keep the reward system simple so that both you and your child are clear about how it will work. Common concerns about giving 

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