Children often have a tricky time understanding the long-term benefits of the skills their parents want to instill in them. As children grow, they need to be taught patience and self-control. When they are young, children often do not see the appeal of these traits and as a result, developing them without any immediate gratification is difficult to do. So if children do not see the benefits of learning these behaviours, how can we as parents encourage the development of these skills?
Too often, children need an incentive to reinforce good behaviours or to form new habits.
These incentives can be presented to children in the form of rewards. What may appear simple to adults can make a world of difference for children and keep them focused and motivated.
This is especially true for young children, where often rewards need to be put in place to have them do what they MUST do. A form of bribery, if you will. For instance, taking medicine or antibiotics is not a choice. Some kids won’t touch it. So what is a parent to do? Ultimately, not taking the medicine will result in further, more long term sickness, and one very miserable child.
The following list outlines the way reward systems can be successfully executed. Keep in mind that whatever method you choose, in order for this system to work, the expectations and the outcomes need to be agreed upon and understood by both the children and parents.
Rewards need to be appealing to children. What works for one age group will not for another. Sleepovers and time to chat on the phone are appealing to teens but not to younger children. Similarly, spending extra time with mom or dad will prove more appealing to younger kids than to teens who would rather be with their friends.
Rewards must be achievable. Parents must provide rewards that are realistic and attainable and preferably only offered to the child once the desired behaviour is achieved. We only want to set our children up to succeed. So expectations of behaviour must be realistic given the age of the child. Similarly promises made by parents to provide the reward must followed through upon.
Select rewards that are suitable to the child. It is best to sit down with the child, especially with older children, and determine together what the rewards might be. For instance, for older children, they can easily learn that once all their responsibilities and chores are completed for the evening, then they are allowed to watch one TV show, or have 30 minutes of computer/ electronics time.
It is a little more difficult to reward children for ‘good behaviour’ when the definition of ‘good behaviour’ can mean so many different things to so many different families. Be as specific as you can when defining good behaviour, and reward the child based on the specifications you agreed upon together. For instance, ‘good behavior’ can mean sharing with your sibling, not whining, completing tasks without having to be told more than once, etc.
For younger children, rewards work when they are more visually appealing. Toddlers and preschoolers respond very well to sticker or star charts. For example, once they achieve 5 stickers in a row, they receive their reward of a small toy, extra time with mommy, or a trip to the ice cream store. The sticker system works exceptionally well for children learning to toilet train, who are fussy eaters and for children who have trouble going to sleep on their own.
Children of all ages like to please, and are often dissatisfied with themselves if they know mom or dad is disappointed. By providing immediate positive benefits and feedback using rewards as a tool, parents are able to encourage their children to develop positive habits, help tailor their children’s behaviours, teach new skills, and help build confidence.
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