- Is your child developmentally ready to complete that behaviour?
- What is the current behaviour and what do you want it to look like instead?
Always positively phrase the desired behaviour. Tell your child what to do, rather than telling them what not to do. For example, say “we jump on the floor” rather than “don’t jump on the couch”
Consider what you need to teach your child so that they can show the desired behaviour. For example, do you need to teach relaxation strategies so that they can wait for their turn without being aggressive, or do they need to be taught problem-solving strategies so they can stay calm when things don’t go their way?
Consider how often they currently display problematic behaviour. Your rewards should be timed to fit this – i.e. if you currently see the ‘problem behaviour’ once a day, endeavor to help your child show a ‘preferred’ behaviour once a day, or reduce the occurrences of the problematic behaviour over time. For instance, if your child shows problematic behaviour five times a day, don’t expect them to be able to go for an entire day without showing that behaviour in order to earn a reward.
Make sure you find motivating items that your child doesn’t otherwise have access to. If you always have access to something, you have no motivation to change your behaviour in order to earn a reward. So, think about how you can either withhold what you will use for rewards (i.e. TV time is dependent on the preferred behaviour being displayed) or have extra privileges that only come out when the desired behaviour has occurred.
Use positive praise. Always ensure you pair giving the reward with positive praise, i.e. “Well done, you tried so hard today to keep your hands to yourself, so you earned your reward!”
Be sensible and fair. If you think your child has made a fair effort but it hasn’t been 100% what you would have liked, you can still give the reward. This is about reading your child and the situation and making an executive decision – and if appropriate, explaining this to your child. For instance, “today was extra hard for you because we had that unexpected visitor which makes it hard for you to stay calm. I know you had that little moment when they arrived, but you worked really hard to calm down and you managed to use your relaxation tools for the rest of the day when you needed to. You’ve still earned your reward because I can see how hard you tried”.
Set your child up for success. This ties in a bit with the time frame and making sure your child is developmentally able to engage in the preferred behaviour. But, it is also about thinking of ways you can ensure your child is successful with the reward system. While it can be tempting to use the lack of reward as a punishment or ‘teaching a lesson’ to your child, they will actually learn more quickly and positively if they actually get a chance to earn the rewards frequently – especially in the initial stages.
Use a visual reward chart. You can make your own visual reward chart on paper or a whiteboard to show your child the expected behaviour, how many times they need to show it/how long they need to go without the problematic behaviour, and what they will earn.
If your reward system isn’t working, it is usually because the rewards aren’t motivating, or you have set the bar too high for your child at this point. Try shifting those factors to set your child up for behaviour before the behaviour starts. It is only bribery if you are using a reward to entice your child to stop a behaviour in the moment once it has already begun.