As parents and as Learning Coaches, we all know that kids will push your buttons—and their limits—almost any way they can. Some kids may even rebel a bit more with Mom or Dad guiding their school day. Until they mature a bit, it’s not unusual for children to lack the motivation to “be good” just because it is expected. But how can an adult teach them to improve their behavior—without resorting to frequent arguing and punishment?
The answer may be a rewards system. Because it provides positive reinforcement for good conduct, this kind of behavior modification program can be a valuable tool to encourage children to change.
Here are some hints to help you develop an effective rewards program for your virtual school students.
Tackle one behavior at a time. Don’t overwhelm your child with a lengthy list of faults—imagine how you’d feel if someone did that to you! Instead, focus on one top priority behavior change until the problem is resolved.
Consider what motivates your child. When planning an appropriate reward, think about your child’s personality and what’s most important to him or her. Chances are, it’s different for each child in your family. Rewards needn’t be expensive; many parents use “dollar store” items or small privileges. Here are a few low- or no-cost rewards your children may appreciate:
Involve your child in planning. Kids are more likely to comply with a program they agree with and helped create, so before putting your plan in place, talk about it together. Ask for your child’s input about the goals, rules, and “prizes,” and try to incorporate suggestions that are reasonable.
Make sure your reward program is age-appropriate. Young children still struggling with the idea of patience may have trouble waiting to collect multiple points or stickers before earning a reward. It’s best to structure programs for this age group to feature immediate gratification. Reserve the points systems for older kids who can grasp the idea of “saving up” for a higher-value reward.
Be clear and specific about the desired result. Work with your child to state the desired behavior as a positive outcome. Instead of, “Stop whining about doing math problems,” you could say, “Begin math schoolwork with only one reminder.”
Make the “rule” measurable. Specify the details of how your child earns the reward, such as start time, location, and the steps involved in the task. To clean up a bedroom, the steps might be making the bed, putting dirty clothes in the hamper, and placing shoes in the closet. For schoolwork, you might list the number of problems to complete or the duration of a study session. When learning is involved, you may also want to add a quality measure, such as “complete spelling (or math) assignment with two or fewer errors.” Put the rules for earning rewards in writing so you can refer back to them.
Be consistent. Enforce the rules consistently, without “stretching” the boundaries or giving credit for almost hitting the goal. Always remember to give the reward when it’s earned! And no taking back rewards that have already been earned—that’s not fair!
Use positive feedback. Don’t rely on the “treat” or “prize” only; be sure to continue giving your child a pat on the back, hugs, and plenty of praise to reinforce the good behavior.
Keep trying. It takes at least 21 days for an adult to form a new habit, so allow even longer for kids. Keep in mind that you may need to change the reward if your child becomes bored with it—be sure to involve your child in choosing a new one of equal value.
Move on. The ultimate goal is to help your child become self-motivated to perform the desired task or behavior. When the positive change has been achieved, talk to your child about how proud you are of his or her success. After this, you have several options: increase the level of challenge for the same behavior (30 minutes of studying instead of 15), start tapering off on the reward, or move on to another goal—but be sure to continue with the praise.
- Adding 15 or 30 minutes to “recess” time
- Earning an extra 15 or 30 minutes of gaming or TV time
- Staying up 15 or 30 minutes later
- Choosing which movie the family will watch
- Enjoying an edible treat, like a small candy or dessert
- Doing an enjoyable activity with a parent, like playing a game or taking a walk
- Visiting a local park
- Having a friend over to play when schoolwork is done
Learning to be self-motivated and well-behaved is an ongoing process for most children. Remember that you may need to tweak your reward system for more difficult tasks or goals. Although what works for one child may not work for his or her siblings, once you understand the basic premise of the rewards system, it becomes easier to adapt it to each personality. With a bit of practice, the rewards system is likely to become the most valuable gadget in your parenting toolkit!
What kinds of rewards have you used to motivate your children? Whether they are large or small, share your most effective motivators in the comments below!