Various types of reward charts are commonly used with children to help improve behavior by motivating with an incentive. Many of the families I work with find this system to be highly effectively, however, some struggle with the approach. How do you know when it is truly effective for your child? And, what about instilling the notion of intrinsic motivation?
We have used behavior charts in our house on a variety of occasions. Most recently we are utilizing a system the boys have become excited about from school in order to adjust some of the behaviors that have presented since the arrival of their new baby brother. Whether you are focusing on a single behavior or trying to improve your morning routine, there are a few important tips to keep in mind.
#1. Make it clear what behavior you are working to change and have a limited focus.
Changing more than one behavior at a time can be overwhelming for a child. Ultimately we want to set the child up for success, therefore, it is important to be very specific (e.g. clean up when asked the first time or stay at the table until you finish all your food). If your focus is on improving the morning routine, consider identifying 3 to 5 tasks for your child (depending on their age).
#2. Identify the prize and reward system ahead of time.
Establishing the guidelines ahead of time lets your child know what he/she is working towards and exactly what needs to be done in order to receive the prize. Include your child in this process by discussing what type of reward they would like (e.g. Would you like to earn a new puzzle or a trip to the pool for special swim time?). Children are more motivated to do things when they have been included in the process and given a choice. Also, you want to make the prizes achievable and something that can be accomplished within a few days. For example, earning five, ten, to twenty stickers (depending on the age).
#3. Be consistent and be positive.
Often times when parents report back to me that the behavior char is not working, that their child’s behavior is not changing, it comes back to consistency. The parent may be forgetting to give the child a sticker, didn’t have one available at the time of the sticker-worthy behavior and forgot to give it to the child later. You must ensure that you give the child a sticker every time he or she engages in the targeted behavior.
As your child consistently demonstrates the targeted behavior you can start to work on other behaviors. Another favorite idea of mine is a broader reward system that we call the “Caught You Being Good” system. With this the child can be rewarded for any good behavior and is a good transition when graduating from sticker charts to promote that concept of intrinsic motivation we mentioned earlier. Our current system is similar in that the boys can earn "bees' for their hive by making good choices throughout the day.
Behavior charts have worked well in our house, but there are some children who struggle with this strategy. If you find your child is not responding well (and you are being consistent about rewarding as necessary) then another approach might be needed. The goal of a sticker chart is to create a positive environment, where there is less emphasis on taking something away (e.g. a toy or play time) and to de-escalate before the adult ends up yelling. There are a number of other options, including ideas such as a "take a break space" (different from the traditional 'time out'). Finding what works best for your parenting style and your child is ultimately what is most important. Whether it is a behavior chart or another approach the purpose is to guide our children to become more independent and make responsible choices.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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