Written by Cristine Seidell, BSEd, MA, LAPC
Every parent has them, and if they say they don’t…they are lying: behaviors they want their child to change. Many families look to private practices specializing in child/adolescent therapy in order to gain insight into the best way to approach these dilemmas. These can range from potty-training issues, temper tantrums, to self-harm practices. Parents often come in exhausted from trying to explain to the child all the reasons why they need to stop a behavior. At times, they have described having a tantrum themselves after becoming so exasperated with not being able to get the child to understand their reasoning.
Do a search online of “Stopping (Behavior)” and you will undoubtedly see the strategy of a reward chart. This is the “Golden Child” of behavior change therapy. Provide the child with an extrinsic motivator (because let’s be honest, kids are rarely intrinsically motivated. Heck! Most adults aren’t!) and they will inevitably begin to lessen an undesirable behavior. It is classic conditioning and can be very effective, but many parents find the details of starting this type of motivation to be very confusing.
One of the biggest complaints from parents in using a reward chart is that after a week, the child is no longer interested in the reward. This is normal. If you were offered ice cream every week as a reward, ice cream becomes boring. Kids are smart and get bored easily. Parenting is not for the week of heart. We have to be fluid and ready to use our “A-Game.” Here are a few strategies to keep a reward chart working as a behavior management tool:
- Begin the chart in small episodes. Make the reward timeframe age-appropriate. This means for younger children a daily reward will be more effective than a weekly reward. A 4-year old is not going to be able to keep their motivation up for an entire week, but a 10-year old more likely can.
- Slowly increase the expectation for a reward with accomplishment. If the child has to earn 2 gems, have that number increase to 3 within a few days. This is effective ONLY if they have accomplished the 2-gem reward. Talk to your child about how cool it would be to earn 3 gems, accomplish a goal, and build confidence.
- For younger children especially, keep a little mystery to reward. One way of doing this is to wrap up their reward in wrapping paper. Maybe even set it out on the counter for them to see as a motivator of what MIGHT be inside. Rewards that can be wrapped can range from mini-figures, play makeup, playdoh, coins, candy, or pictures of them as younger children with a story about it. For older children who can go longer periods of time between rewards, include movie tickets, gift cards, invitations for a parent date, etc. However, continue to place them in envelopes or wrap them up to keep the mystery going.
- Slowly begin expanding the length of time needed to earn a gem. If after a month the child is consistently earning a daily reward, move the reward to every other day. It’s very important, however, to keep the praise of the behavior daily in order to help the child sustain motivation.
Changing problematic behaviors is always challenging for parents. Regardless of the parent’s desire to help, modifying behavior with a reward chart program can only be effective when the system is well thought out and the parent feels confident in managing it completely. Join Art It Out Wednesday, October 12, 2016 at 7:00 pm for a Behavior Management Parent Workshop, where you will begin to design, make, and be coached on an effective rewards chart for YOUR child. Call us at 770-726-9589 for more details or email at Cristine@artitout.com. Childcare available with appropriate RSVP.