How to Create a Reward System for Kids that Works

A discipline technique that promotes good behavior.

Rewards can be the best way to change kids' behavior.
Peter Lourenco/Moment/Getty Images

Reward systems are an excellent behavior modification strategy that change your child's behavior fast. Whether your preschooler is hitting his brother or your teenager won't do his chores, a simple reward system can help him become more responsible for his behavior.

Reward Systems for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Toddlers and preschoolers benefit from simple sticker charts. Allow your child to decorate a chart to get him motivated to earn stickers.

Then choose stickers that your child will love.

Make sure the sticker chart is displayed prominently in the house. Young children are often very proud of their accomplishments and want to ensure everyone is aware they have earned stickers. Use praise to motivate him to keep earning stickers.

Choose one behavior to work on at a time. Behaviors that can work well with a sticker chart include things such as using the toilet and staying in his own bed at night. Provide a sticker immediately after you see the desired behavior as this will provide positive reinforcement for good behavior.

Reward Systems for School-Age Children

School-age children can handle a slightly more complex of a reward system. Stickers alone are not usually enough of a motivator anymore. But you can let your school-age child earn stickers that can be exchanged for bigger rewards. 

A 7-year-old may could earn stickers for making her bed and once she has three stickers, she could go to the playground.

Or a 9-year-old might earn stickers for getting her homework done before dinner. Then, stickers could be exchanged for TV time. 

Just make sure your child earns rewards on a regular basis. Depending on your child, a reward may be necessary daily, every few days, or weekly.

Sit down with your child and explain the reward system.

For example, tell her, “When you earn three stickers, we will go to the park to play. This is how you earn stickers…” Allow your child an opportunity to ask questions and become involved in suggesting rewards she wants to earn.

Reward Systems for Tweens

Tweens can benefit from more complicated systems with bigger rewards. But remember,  rewards don’t have to cost money. Screen time or a later bedtime on the weekends can be big motivators.

Tweens may feel too old for “stickers” so you can use a system where they earn check marks or tokens. A token economy system allows them to earn tokens throughout the day that can be exchanged for reward items. For example, two tokens may be equivalent to thirty minutes of television.

Choose up to three behaviors to address at a time. Pick at least one behavior that your child already does fairly well. This can help your child feel successful which is important in keeping tweens motivated.

Reward Systems for Teenagers

Teenagers will outgrow formal reward charts and systems.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to get rid of reward systems all together. Create a behavior management contract to link privileges to specific behavior.

For example, make the privilege of spending time with friends on the weekends linked to a teen getting all of his homework done on time for the week. Only allow a teen to borrow the car if he has done all of his chores on time throughout the week. Don’t give teens money unless they have earned it.

Electronics are also another privilege that works well for many teens. Consider giving cellphone privileges each day only after their homework and chores are completed. Just make sure that you establish clear rules ahead of time so that they understand what is expected of them each day.

Continue Reading