The following guidance should help to set up a successful reward chart for your child. This guidance comes recommended by the Educational Psychologist and has been adapted from the advice in the book ‘The Incredible Years’ by Carolyn Webster-Stratton.
1. Define appropriate child behaviour clearly
First think about what behaviours are bothersome - how often do they occur, and what appropriate behaviours can be substituted for them. Positive behaviours need to be clearly defined so that it is easier to decide if you should follow through with a reward.
Example: ‘If you sit and complete some of your homework in 10 minutes, you will get a sticker.’
2. Make the steps small and work up to bigger goals
Reward charts often fail because the steps or behavioural expectations are too large.
First observe how often the misbehaviours occur - this establishes a baseline.
Example: If your child is always getting out of their seat - setting a goal for them to stay in their seat for 30 minutes would be unachievable - but if they could do it for 10 minutes at a time, this would be more manageable. Once they have done that for a few days/weeks consistently, you can increase the goal.
However, be careful not to make the steps too easy to achieve as your child may lose motivation quickly.
A good rule of thumb is to make it fairly easy to earn a reward when children are first learning a new behaviour. They need repeated successes to appreciate the rewards.
3. Choose the numbers of behaviours carefully
Reward systems often fail because too many negative and difficult behaviours are tackled at once.
This is difficult for children to follow but also for the adults - with too many behaviours to observe, following through with consequences becomes unmanageable.
4. Focus on the positive behaviours
Be clear on what you want your child to do, not what you don’t want them to do.
Example: ‘sit and concentrate on your homework’ instead of ‘don’t bother your sister’
5. Involve children in setting up the program and choosing the rewards
Children will respond more if they have been involved in discussing the behaviours you want to see, how often you want to see them and what rewards will be motivating for them. Keep it age appropriate.
6. Keep the rewards motivating
Have a menu of rewards and keep them flexible and varied.
7. Consistently monitor the program
If it feels that the program is not working think;
- Is it motivating enough?
- Is it challenging enough?
- Is it too ambitious?
- Are you using it consistently? If not, why not?
- Are you targeting the right behaviours?