When I bring up the topic of reward charts with parents I always get varied responses
“How do I get my child to . . . ?”
It’s a question we’re often asked at Family Friendly HQ.
When I bring up the topic of reward charts with parents I always get varied responses. They either love them or loath them! Some parents rely heavily on them, others have crashed and burned (their words!)
Some feel the ‘gold stars’ encourage kids to seek out external praise instead of feeling satisfied about a job well done.
Others feel that those stickers serve as a useful tool to boost self-confidence.
The burning question is do reward charts help to make a lasting change in behaviour?
By this I mean that if a child is completing a task that is based on incentives or rewards alone, essentially compliance is optional, not required. In these situations the value of the lesson may get lost.
For example. Let’s say a parent offers a special treat or money for making their bed on a daily basis and notices that the bed has not been made for several days. When the parent confronts the child and explains that he or she won’t receive the reward, the child responds, “That’s OK, I have all the money I need now,” or “I don’t want any iPad time today.” Then what?
Another pitfall of a reward system at home is that it may only achieve temporary compliance.
There is a theory that the more you reward people for doing something, the less interest they come to have in whatever they had to do to get the reward. So if you relate this to kids - who are offered a treat for sharing or doing chores they can actually tend to be less likely to act that way again if there’s nothing in it for them next time. Then their question is, “What’ll I get for doing it?”
So if you do decide to use a reqard systme, how can you use one in a postive way?
The idea behind a reward system is that people will do difficult or even things they do not like if they know that there is a reward coming following the activity. Anyone who has ever gotten up on bleak Monday morning, looked longingly at their warm duvet, and still gone to work is an illustration of this very thing. You go to work because you know that there is a reward- money- and that if you do not go to work, you will not receive the reward.
Some would argue that children should just be intrinsically motivated to behave or because the parent "shouldn't have to" reward the child for something that the child is expected to do. I am not advocating that you give your child a sticker for every little thing they do. If your child goes to bed at night with no problems, you don't need to give your child a sticker for doing so. But, if bedtime has become a battle for you, getting ready for bed with no battles may be a targeted behaviour that should go on the reward chart.
I read somewhere recently about a teacher criticising the idea behind reward charts and indicating that some children have become very upset and disengaged when they were given a "yellow light" or "red light" on a traffic-light based system of green light being good and yellow or red light being poor behaviour. These traffic-light based systems include a component of punishment - you are de merited for not engaging in the targeted behaviour. This I believe is very different from a reward system. Punishment should be handled in an entirely different way.
Reward systems are not a a one size fits all but they do have some common traits.
Google searches for “sticker chart,” “chore chart,” and “reward chart” collectively return more than 1 million results. Amazon has more than 1,300 combined product results for the same searches. They are extremely popular.
And it’s easy to see how busy parents are drawn to these charts. I’ve used them myself! The most common trait I think is that they are believed to have the ability to produce quick results. With the right incentives and structure, the system can be an effective way to get kids in the habit of brushing their teeth, for example, or tidying up their toys. Proponents of most types of reward charts/systems aim to help prevent power struggles and reduce parents’ need to nag, apparently making the routines of everyday family life easier.
But every child is different.
And what happens when they work too well? What happens when you ask your child to stop what they are doing and help his younger sibling clean up the spilled milk and they respond with: “What will you give me?”
It is so important to praise good behaviour rather than focusing on the not so acceptable conduct.
This is very hard, I know that! Parenting is the toughest job in the world. Period!
But encouraging good behaviour with praise, rather than pointing out the bad I feel has better results. This means trying to do more praising than criticising.
It takes a lot of praise to outweigh one criticism. Experts suggest trying to praise children six times for every one time you criticise them.
Praise is when you tell your child what you like about his/her behaviour. It goes a long way towards helping your child feel good about themselves. I see it in my own children. It makes them happy, confident and I think more encouraged to repeat the same level of good behaviour.
Descriptive praise I feel is even better.
For example when you tell your child exactly what it is that you like: ‘I love the way you helped your brother tie his shoelace just now’.
This is where rewards can make your praise and encouragement more effective in encouraging good behaviour. Most behaviour is influenced by the consequences that follow it, so when you reward your child’s behaviour, the theory is that the behaviour is more likely to happen again in the future. But be careful over too much rewarding - see what I've said above!
You can use praise as a tool instead or in conjunction with to help change difficult behaviour and replace it with desirable behaviour. Watch for times when your child behaves in a way that you are happy with. When you see the positive behaviour, immediately get your child’s attention. Then tell them what you liked about the behaviour. You can praise effort as well as the achievement – for example, ‘It’s great how you said please and thank you when you asked for that’. You could even look for ways to reward the desirable behaviour outside of a reward chart– for example, give your child a high five or an extra special cuddle.
At the start, you can praise every time you see the positive behaviour and when they start doing it more often, you can begin praise it less and move onto the next one!
So tell us, do you believe in reward charts?