The Power of Reward Systems
Psst…hey you. Yeah, you! The one who looks frazzled and, I'm guessing, wishes you were in Jamaica with nothing but a trashy novel on your to-do list.
You have a good kid. Sure, sometimes she forgets to turn in her homework; or she tells a lie; or she acts out in school or has a meltdown at home. She's still a good kid. And Reward systems can help you remember that, and help her know that, too.
Reward systems are not about ignoring bad behaviour. They are about recognizing and celebrating positive, healthy behavior. How can you make sure the system you put into place does this effectively, and encourages your child to be the good kid you know she is?
3 Steps to Better Behavior!
Really, is it that easy? Yes, and no! In theory, there are simple steps to create a reward system that works. In practice, it's a little trickier. You have to contend with false starts and mistakes. But practice makes perfect – or at least, it makes good enough! And good enough can do wonders for a family struggling with behavior challenges.
So here are your 3 simple-enough steps:
1. Identify the behavior you want to change.
Maybe it's your kid's inability to get ready for school and to the bus stop on time. Maybe it's the struggle at bedtime. Maybe it's the constant sassing. Maybe it's a million other things – but pick one! Once you have a handle on that behavior, you can move on to others. To keep your kid – and yourself – from becoming overwhelmed or defeated, focus on one at a time.
2. Identify your child's motivators.
The ADHD brain will not do anything unless it is genuinely interested or motivated. So what's the carrot that's going to motivate your kid? Is it an extra half-hour of screen time if she makes it to the bus on time? Is it an extra 15 minutes of story time before bed if he puts away his toys? Or a chance to have a favorite dessert when she earns three stickers (or checkmarks) for talking respectfully at dinnertime?
3. Start a feedback loop.
In your system, make sure that you have a way to measure progress or determine whether your child is engaging in the desired behavior. If, for instance, you want her to brush her teeth every night, how are you going to ensure she does it? And when she starts to do it consistently, what's the next step? How can you move forward with this behavior? Maybe you move from doing it for her to watching her. Finally, you send her up to do it herself, confident that she can and will. (Yes, you might test the toothbrush at first to see if its wet, but she doesn't have to know that!)
Life is complicated enough. Reward systems work best when they're simple. So, what behavior do you want to change? What's going to make her want to change? And how are you going to know if she is making the change? That's it, in a nutshell. It doesn't have to – and shouldn't – be more complex than that.