Praise and Rewards to Motivate Behavior

Praise and rewards are wonderful tools to increase your child’s positive behavior. I can hear the skeptics now: “Do I really have to reward them for doing what they are supposed to be doing?”. Well, no, you don’t have to. You can rely on crossing your fingers and hope they do what they are supposed to, and give consequences when they don’t. However, based on basic behavior modification principles, reinforcing behavior with positive feedback, praise, and rewards will make it increase. (And make your life a bit easier!) We all operate on this principle; we go to work and get a paycheck. We do something nice for our spouse and get positive feedback. We all need and enjoy positive reinforcement.

Remember, any time you are tuned into your child, you are reinforcing what he or she is doing. Therefore, it’s best to give your full attention in response to a positive behavior on behalf of your child. When you see him or her doing something positive, name it. “I really like the way you ___________” or “You did a great job ____________.” Other ways of giving positive attention include eye contact, using your child’s name, and giving a positive physical reinforcement such as a hug or a high five.

In addition to the above positive reinforcement, rewards can also increase your child’s positive behavior. Rewards are particularly good for reinforcing behavior your child may be struggling to display. Start a sticker chart with one behavioral goal. Make sure it is stated in the positive, i.e. getting stickers for “Closing door quietly” instead of “Stop slamming doors”.  Think about what motivates your child. Rewards do NOT have to cost a lot of money, nor should it always be food or something sweet. Children are often motivated by these two things: time and power. Time with YOU is almost always motivating!  Giving your child 10-15 minutes of ONE ON ONE time is a wonderful reward, especially if you have other kids.  Since children are not usually the ones in control (even when they think they are ;)), they enjoy having power when possible. Therefore, having the power to choose something for themselves or the entire family can feel very good… and be very reinforcing!

Suggested Rewards:

  • Walk with parent
  • Board game with parent
  • Select game for whole family to play
  • 10-30 minutes extra TV/computer/video game time
  • 10-30 minutes later bedtime on Fri/Sat evenings
  • Read a book to/be read a book by parent
  • Choose where family goes out to eat
  • 10-15 minutes one-on-one activity of choice w/parent (coloring, playing with dolls, etc.)
  • 1 item from 99 cent store or dollar bins at Target
  • Pick out favorite cereal next time grocery shopping
  • Decide what family has for dinner for the evening
  • Special dessert
  • Pick movie to watch with family

I write about this so often because I truly believe in the power of praise. You might be amazed to watch your child’s behavior change if you commit yourself to praising positive behaviors consistently.

What behavior should you praise/reward?