Rewards: To give or not to give…that is the question. I get so many questions about award systems that to boil it all down to one post is challenging.
First off, rarely are my awards in any kind of system. I threw out the star chart 12 kids ago when I found myself utterly dazed and confused at who had done what for how many stars and what I owed them for it. Besides, most of the things I was giving them stars for were bare minimum requirements– making their bed, brushing their teeth, and getting dressed. Really? Those things were kind of a given in my book, so I threw out the chart and stars long ago.
Nothing at all against any mama who’s got that down pat and the system works for you. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sticker star yourself into happy oblivion if it is makin’ your hair fly back. But for those of you overwhelmed by the idea or finding yourself slave to that taskmaster, throw it out and do so guiltlessly.
How do I reward the children then? When and what deserves a reward?
I save rewards MOSTLY for skills. A great swim lesson without tears: maybe a lollipop. Finishing their reading lessons book: afternoon tea with mommy. Riding their bike: ice cream trip! There was a time when we paid the children for memorizing verses (Prov 16:16), and eventually they grew to love it and asked not to be paid! When I was in the hospital with Courson for eight weeks, I paid the children $5 per chapter book, so that at least we could be moving forward in schoolwork. Eventually they amassed a small fortune, and when my crazy two months were over, they were happy to continue reading without pay since their voracious appetite had been whet.
Now, do I ever reward behavior? Yes. Absolutely. But this is even more unpredictable and therefore more appreciated… If the little kids sat still through an unbelievably boring speech and then used their best manners in a group of mostly adults afterwards, or sat through a very long dinner without complaining or excessive fidgeting, we may stop on the way home for gelato. If the kiddos had a bad football game but showed incredible sportsmanship and tenacity, we’ll be goin’ to Five Guys. When a big kid makes it through a particularly grueling season with an unbearable coach or teacher, we will definitely celebrate with a special treat or shopping trip to commemorate their newfound endurance and self-control. But here’s where you have to be careful:
When rewards for behavior become consistent or expected, they can quickly become a “backdoor bribe”. As a parent, you can and should reward behavior from time to time, but this can only be done when standards are clear and consistent but yet the rewards are infrequent and unexpected. It should not be phrased, “If you behave when we are at ____, I will take you to Toys R Us.” Instead, afterwards surprise them with an impromptu, “Since you were so amazingly patient through that long adult dinner, I’m taking you for ice cream! Just you and me! And we can talk all about legos and Superman since we didn’t really have a chance to do that with all those adults around!”
Reward skills. Those take time and work to conquer. You can reward behavior, but just make sure the reward doesn’t become a back door bribe.