How can I use rules and rewards more effectively at home?



Immediately responding to a child’s behavior can increase or decrease the likelihood of the child repeating that behavior.  Receiving an award for positive behaviors can encourage a child to repeat that same behavior in the future.  Rewards are a useful technique that caregivers can use to encourage your child to change unwanted behaviors or reinforce positive behaviors.  Adults can strengthen the effect of rewards by accompanying rewards with positive words and affection.

Pros of using rules and rewards

  • Rules help children to understand what is expected of them
  • Rewards motivate children to practice good behavior and learn new skills
  • Rules and rewards help adults to focus on and track positive child behavior
  • Rewards boost children’s self-esteem by showing them they can succeed at a task
  • Rules and rewards strengthen relationships by encouraging mutual satisfaction

How to use rules and rewards
Identify the behavior you want changed or reinforced.
When communicating the desired behavior to your child use positive, clear and descriptive words so she will know exactly what you expect.  For example, “Keep your feet and hands to yourself” instead of “No hitting” tells the child more clearly what is expected of them rather than just what is prohibited.

Select the reward.
Be sure it is something your child enjoys so she will be interested in earning it.  With younger children, small rewards like stickers or parental attention are generally all that is necessary to promote good behavior.  What works for one child may not work for another, so it is important to keep a variety of rewards.

Different types of rewards
Affection – Physical rewards like kisses, hugs, a reassuring smile, high five or pat on the back.  Never withhold affection as a consequence or punishment.
Praise – Verbal rewards like “Way to go” or “Good job.”  Verbal praise works best when adults describe the positive behavior: “Good job playing silently while I was on the telephone!”
Attention and activities – Rewards with extra time or an exciting activity are especially influential on young children.  Activities like reading an extra story, finger-painting, going to the movies or for ice cream, playing a game, or a trip to the park are great examples of enjoyable rewards.

Chart the positive behaviors and rewards.

Rewards charts can be great visual tools for tracking rewards and helping to remind children of expected behaviors.  Label the desired behavior with fun pictures and clear words, like “brush teeth” with a picture of a toothbrush.  Reward children with a smiley face or a star on the chart every time you see them do the behavior.  Younger children may need to be reminded to complete the task or chore.  When children receive a certain amount of stickers, adults might offer a bigger reward, like a new book or a trip to the zoo.  Children may get bored with the same reward.  To combat this, involve the child in selecting the rewards he or she values.


Tips for success

Be swift
It is important to reward the behavior directly after it occurs.  Toddlers and preschoolers have a short memory, so it is essential that the reward be given immediately after the behavior happens.

Be consistent

In the beginning, be sure to reward the desired behavior every time it happens.  Consistency will promote repetition, and eventually the desired behavior will become habit for your child.  

Be explicit

Explain to your child exactly what you liked about what she did and why she’s being rewarded.  This way she will know what to do next time to be rewarded.

Be realistic

Expect behaviors that are age appropriate and suit your child’s capability.  Talk with your pediatrician or your child care teacher about reasonable expectations for your child.

Visit to learn more about child development, search for a child care provider, or learn about the state’s voluntary quality rating system.  ABC Quality is a program administered by the SC Department of Social Services’ Division of Early Care and Education.

By ABC Quality Team at 1 Aug 2017, 11:00 AM