1. Give one-on-one time as a reward. Kids crave attention. They long for us to listen to them, talk to them, and play with them. Set aside individual time with each of your children. Your time together will mean far more to them than a new toy or a favorite treat.
2. Go to favorite places as a reward. Instead of giving your children candy or new toys for a reward, take them somewhere special. Let them choose. It could be a special park, bowling, a local museum, or a trip to the bookstore to see what's new. No need to buy a book, looking will suffice. (Remember, too many material rewards teach children that if they are good, they should get a treat. We want them to act good because it is the right thing to do.)
3. Praise, praise, praise. Instead of relying on material rewards, praise your child and show affection. Watch as your children's eyes light up when you give them a hug, praise them with uplifting and kind words, or show excitement over something that they have done.
4. Use an incentive chart or jar. When your children do what they are asked, finish a chore, or demonstrate good behavior while running errands, let them put a sticker on a chart, or something in a can or jar. Use beans, marbles, pennies, or small rocks. When they have filled the whole jar or covered the whole chart with stickers, the family gets to do something fun together. Your family could go to the movies, a park, museums, or on a hike or bike ride. This will encourage good behavior. More importantly, it will encourage spending time together as a family and strengthening your relationships. Have just one jar or chart that all the kids contribute to. Then it is a group effort.
5. Have kids make their own rewards. Fill a shoe box with plain paper, scissors, crayons, markers, glue, stamps, glitter, anything you have around the house. I like to put plain labels in the box also. When your kids want you to give them a reward, send them to the box to make their own. They can make themselves a certificate or sticker for their accomplishment. It teaches them to be creative, and to reward themselves instead of needing their reward from someone else.
Ultimately we want our children to be internally motivated. It takes time, practice and patience to get to this point. To help expedite the process we can....
- Teach kids to encourage themselves. Literally. As funny as this sounds, when your child does something good, remind them to tell themselves "good job." Feel free to say to them "Did you remember to tell yourself you did a good job?" This is a great way to start getting your children to internalize their actions and success. Instead of looking outward for a reward, they look inward and see the good things they have done.
- Always use "You." As parents we are quick to say "I am proud of you." Instead, "You must be proud of yourself."
- When children are small, point out how success makes them feel. "Doesn't that feel good to be kind to your sister?" Don't you feel good now that your room is clean?" Once they get a little older, ask them what made them feel good about what they did. "How do you feel now that your room is clean?" "How does it feel to get 100 percent on your spelling test?" "How do you feel when you and your sister play together without fighting?"
- Point out the obvious. When you see your kids do something good, point it out. Don't reward or judge the action. Just state what they have done. "You got all your spelling words correct." "You did it." "You shared your book with your sister."
- Have your kids write down their successes. When your kids do something good, have them write it down. If they are too young to write, have them draw a picture. (Once the picture is drawn, write a sentence or two on the back describing the picture so you can remember what they drew later.) Save all the pages and make them into a book or put them in a binder. Every month or so, pick a time to sit down and go over all the great things your child has done. Talk about how they feel looking at all the things they have done right. Either way this type of exercise will turn their focus away from material rewards and inward to their own success, building internal motivation.
It is a very lofty charge to expect our families to never use rewards, ever. Probably not totally realistic. Instead keep these suggestions and work to use rewards and bribes less. You will be happy with the results.
And...think of it this way... Internally motivated children will also save your family money. You won't have to buy the toys and candy.