Reward systems are positive consequences that encourage behavior change and include motivators like sticker charts, token economy systems, point systems, or behavior charts. These rewards are used to encourage change in some way.
Once your child has mastered a new behavior, rewards can be phased out and replaced with praise. There are many behaviors that respond well to a reward system. Here's an overview of how to utilize reward systems for behavior change.
New behaviors can take a while for kids to learn because they take practice. But, your child will learn a new skill or behavior faster when you use rewards as a discipline tool. Examples of new behaviors that you can teach and reinforce with a reward system include:
- Going potty
- Greeting children in socially appropriate ways
- Making eye contact
- Taking turns
- Using an inside voice
- Utilizing manners
You can offer rewards in several different ways depending on the behavior that you are targeting. For example, if you are using a sticker chart to help a child with toilet training, you can offer a sticker each time your child uses the toilet. You also could use this approach when your child tries a new food.
There also may be times when it's appropriate to set up training periods to practice new behaviors. Rewards would be offered during these training periods only.
For example, if you want your child to work on sharing, you may arrange a playdate with a peer to help your child practice. Throughout the playdate, you may offer your child a reward in the form of a sticker, smiley face, or token that can later to be exchanged for extra privileges.
Another way to approach this would be to offer a single reward after the playdate. Explain to your child, “If you share with your friend today, you’ll earn a trip to the park.” Then, provide reminders throughout the playdate, “If you want to go to the park, you’ll need to share that with your friend.” If your child is successful, they earn a trip to the park after the playdate ends.
Behaviors You Want to Stop
You also can use reward systems to teach kids to stop certain behaviors. Here are some examples of behaviors that may be influenced by a reward system.
- Aggressive behaviors
- Running in a parking lot
- Sibling rivalry
- Slamming doors
- Talking back
- Temper tantrums
One of the keys to using a reward system to stop a behavior is to explain what behavior you want to see instead. For example, instead of rewarding a child for “not hitting,” offer a reward for “using gentle touches,” “keeping your hands to yourself,” or “asking permission before touching your brother.” Reward the child for showing the desired behavior.
Your child’s age, temperament, and the seriousness of the behavior problem will determine how frequently your child needs a reward.
For example, a 4-year-old who tends to behave aggressively several times a day may require frequent rewards, such as stickers or tokens, throughout the day. Other children may be able to wait until the end of the day to earn a reward, and some kids can wait even longer, such as the end of the week. However, it’s important to make sure that kids are being rewarded often enough that they stay motivated to keep working hard on their behaviors.
Activities of Daily Living
Young children or children with special needs often benefit from having a reward system to help them with their hygiene and activities of daily living. Some behaviors that can be influenced with a reward system include:
- Brushing their teeth
- Combing their hair
- Getting dressed
- Taking a bath
- Washing their face
A behavior chart can assist them with their morning or bedtime routine to remind them of what to do. For children who can’t read, a set of pictures of each activity can be helpful.
Depending on your child’s needs, they may require a sticker, smiley face, or token for each item they complete. Or, they may only need reinforcement when they get their entire routine completed.
Reward systems for chores can be very effective. An example of chores for kids includes:
- Cleaning their room
- Doing their homework
- Feeding the dog
- Making the bed
- Putting clothes away
- Taking out the trash
It’s important for kids to have chores, and a chore chart can help remind kids of what chores to do each day. Sometimes rewards can be linked directly to a chore. For example, “When you are done feeding the dog and taking out the trash, you can watch television.”
Kids may be motivated by earning privileges or by earning an allowance.
Sometimes setting up a system where a child earns money for each chore completed can be a beneficial teaching tool. For example, earning a quarter for each simple chore can be very motivating, and parents can use the opportunity to teach kids about money.
A Word From Verywell
Whether you want to change your child's behavior or instill healthy habits, utilizing reward systems may be the most effective way to make that happen. Just be sure you use your rewards consistently as well as develop reward systems that can be maintained. When used appropriately, rewards can not only motivate your kids to change but also help you teach your child new skills.