Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reward System

We've found that effective discipline for children requires a lot of patience and self-control for parents. When we've been too harsh or expected too much of our kids, discipline (as a teaching tool) doesn't work - it just ends in a big battle. Other times we've focused too much on negative behavior and have forgotten to give enough encouragement and praise for the positive. During those times, discipline doesn't work either. Punishment gets overused instead of using it only for those times that it's really necessary. It’s hard to find a good balance. And since children are so different, what works for one doesn't always work for another. It's all about trial and error and finding out what works.

So with that in mind, I just want to tell you about one thing that we've discovered that has worked well for Curious George. C.G. thrives on praise, encouragement, and attention. He loves it when we point out things he's done right and he'll often do it for us if we've forgotten. He needs constant feedback and ongoing reassurances that he's doing a good job.

After reading books, talking to friends, and experiencing a lot of failed attempts, I designed a reward system that seems to be working for him. I made a chart for C.G. that has his schedule broken down into small segments - wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, jobs, activities, eat lunch, run errands, etc. I can change the schedule depending on what our plans are for that day.

C.G. is able to earn points for each block of time (they’re not equal blocks) during the day. The idea is to help him feel good about all the good things he does during the day. If he does an extra good job at something, then he gets two points or even more. If he misbehaves, he doesn’t earn any points for that segment, but we always reassure him that he can earn bonus points for other things he does throughout the day. One thing that is really important is to not take points away once they are earned. We use the points as a positive thing, not as a punishment thing.

We let C.G. spend his points on things like an extra movie, TV or computer time, a special family outing, an extra book at bedtime, an outing with Dad or Mom, etc. He knows that he can spend the points as long as he has done all his jobs for the day and his points aren’t on hold. We put his points on hold (and they can’t be used) when his misbehavior merits a time-out. After he does his time-out then the points get taken off hold again.

Sometimes he’s had some pattern misbehavior that is hard to correct with just the system I described above. For example, he was in the habit of throwing toys whenever he was angry. For that one, I decided to take away a toy whenever he threw a toy. He could earn it back with points. That way, I wasn’t taking away the points directly and that seemed to work for him. And it seemed to correct itself after only a few times of having to take away toys.

C.G. cares more about earning the points than he does about spending them. He might ask me once every couple of days what he can spend his points on, but he reminds me several times a day how good he is doing and that I need to reward his points. He loves to watch me figure out how many points he’s earned. It makes him feel so good to get a bonus point for something that I noticed that he tried hard to do. And I’ve tried harder to look for those things because I know he needs that encouragement so much.

Since we have put this system in place I feel like we notice so much more the good he is trying to do and we’ve tried to be in the habit of praising him for those good things. It obviously isn’t a perfect system and we still have our days (plenty of them). But I just wanted to share this idea in case there’s anyone else out there that’s struggling in a similar way. I’d love to hear any ideas you have to share also. Or any other reward systems you have found to work.

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