(Part 2: Incentives and Reward Systems)
Homework, goals, behavior, maintaining good work habits… so much needs to be done. And we, as parents, have concerns for our kids and worry about helping them to succeed.
And then there’s the really fun part. After thinking about and identifying a good goal and a plan to make it happen – we’ll assign X and Y and exercise those necessary skills every day – then the thought strikes… okay, now how exactly am I going to convince my child to go along with this again?
After all, our kids are somewhat known for being mulish, stubborn, and determined to do exactly what they want to do, exactly in the way they wish to do it. Lovable, wonderful, sure; but not always flexible. In fact, our much-loved son is so incredibly mulish and focused on his own version of the world that we daily expect him to stop talking and start braying.
And a lot of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
But let’s say we can harness that focus for good. Let’s say we can nudge our cherished mules into following a vision that we approve of; a vision that we helped to create.
Motivation and incentives are wonderful tools. They’re a fantastic way to help our kids decide that they really do want to go along with a plan. And they can take a great many different forms.
- Point reward systems. Earn so many points (10,20,50)- for good behavior, specific behaviors (saying thank you, greetings, etc), remembering to turn in homework, getting good grades, exercising, you name it – and get a reward. Rewards can be anything from ice cream to books to video games to shopping to… well, they’re basically only limited by imagination. To really give the reward a kick, we allow our son to choose his own (within certain parameters). This is a more long-term system. It’s important that the taste of victory be there… if it takes too long to arrive, either the points required need to be lowered, or the points awarded more often.
- Reward gained at the accomplishment of a goal. For example, master a skill, go out and celebrate (or get that coveted item, whatever). Once again, the reward should be something the child really wants; giving them the power of choice (or choosing something you are absolutely dead certain he/she wants) allows them to feel as though they are in control; the process goes from being Mom’s thing (roll eyes) to being My goal.
- Helping the child to draw up her/his own plan for success. Many of our kids really won’t go along with anything unless it is their own idea. By sculpting an idea – okay, exams are coming up, and you need to study… why don’t you come up with a plan for this weekend? That way it’s in your hands, not mine – into his/her plan, a change of ownership takes place. Motivation is much stronger and resistance much less when the child takes over and plans the entire thing. Plus, there’s always that desire to “show the parent” how it’s done. After all, aren’t their own ideas always the right ideas?
- Asking the child what they’d like to see change or keep the same. Sometimes they surprise us. Sometimes they come up with great thoughts about what they’d like to improve on, things we hadn’t considered or didn’t rate very highly. After all, they’re the ones living their lives every day; they’re the ones who go to school every day and have to deal with peers and schoolwork and teachers. Once an area for improvement has been identified, asking the child how he’d/she’d like to see this happen can lead to a very productive conversation. It also opens the door for you to suggest or co-create a plan. Everyone wins when kids and their parents actually discuss their lives together.
- Combination plans: combining two elements – something you’d like to see improve, and something they want to do – to earn a reward. For example, my son wants to play on his DS, but knows that playtime needs to be earned. He offers to do an exercise he likes (reading with his body propped in a semi-push-up position to improve arm strength), in combination with one that I would like to see (a good grade on homework, test, anything) in return for that longed-for DS time. Usually I use the combo at his urging, and for a reward he’s going to see that day. And usually he thinks he’s being clever and putting one over on me. 🙂
- Quick, instant food rewards. A lot of behavior analysts and teachers will simply use candy/toys to reward kids for behavior. They’ll do it instantly, too, as soon as the good behavior appears, in order to reinforce it. This has its uses, despite the knee-jerk parental disdain for sweets, but should be done carefully. Using tiny candies (like Nerds), a single piece at a time, the overall sugar intake can be lowered. It hurts me to say this, as I hate the sugar-reward connection, but it can be very effective and helpful in children who otherwise will not cooperate. An example of using candy would be to reinforce leaving spaces between words, writing a name on homework, handwriting, cooperation, or some other situation where you are wanting to see a particular behavior take place often (we also saw it used well with playing card/board games). If you can’t stomach the sugar, nuts or raisins can be substituted; they worked so well for us that to this day our son’s 2nd grade teacher recommends using cashews to teach leaving spaces between words.
There are lots of clever ways out there to motivate our children. You know your child and what he/she likes most, how he tolerates following plans of his own making (or yours), and whether he needs a short-term or long-term reward. These are only a few suggestions, to be tailored by you, the parent.
If you have a system you found works, feel free to leave a comment describing it. If you’d like more detail, please say so. It’s always hard for me to find the balance between not enough detail (what are you talking about?) and too much (snore… could this get more boring?). 😉
Maintaining Habits Over the Break Part 1