Who am I kidding? My parenting style is rather more 'dragging' than 'bringing' up children! I have muddled my way through the last 7 years with more luck than judgement and yet along the way I have gained a few insights into what makes kids tick. I'm sure there are plenty of parenting experts out there who will tell you that you shouldn't reward children for doing the things you've asked of them; that praise and a sense of altruism should be enough for your kiddo, but sometimes that just doesn't cut it in my household. Confession time... I am not above a bit of bribery if it gets the desired outcome. There. I said it.
Not that I make it easy on my kids. They have to work for their rewards and in that sense I see it as a life lesson. And for this purpose I am a big fan of charts! It must be the scientist in me... because I am a complete sucker for a nice, colourful and clear to follow chart! Sometimes it's for chores, and I've blogged about this before with my pocket money tracker. Other times it's to modify unwanted behaviour or to encourage new things. However, the principal is the same... you set a target, your child earns a reward after completing the required steps to get to that target.
Ideas for targets (we call them 'challenges' in our household):
- Try new foods
- Use the potty
- Brush teeth without complaining
- Don't backchat
- Make my bed in the morning
- Stop biting fingernails/picking nose & etc...
- Share nicely with my siblings/friends
- Make your targets S-M-A-R-T (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic & timely)! - A good target is easy to measure and is easier to explain to a younger child, however, with my older one I have used a simple challenge of "I will behave better this week" with my judgement being the deciding factor! The number of steps that need to be completed before the reward will vary with the child's age. A 2-year old will get easily bored and frustrated if they have to use the potty 20 times before getting their hands on the prize, whereas an older child can understand the process better and can manage a greater challenge.
- Two Directions - I've found a useful technique is to allow progress on the chart to be 2-way! So you can progress towards the prize for good efforts (demonstrating the task/behaviour required), but you can also step back for doing the opposite (refusing to cooperate or an act of bad behaviour)!
- Rewards only need to appeal to your child - In terms of reward it doesn't need to break the bank and it may not be something you personally would consider worthwhile... as long as it's something your child craves! While cold, hard cash seems to be the Big One's raison d’être these days, the twins are still easily pleased with things like an extra story at bedtime or a trip to the park at the end of the week. Even with the Big One, his understanding of the value of money is still not very developed, so I don't need to offer big bucks! Other ideas include: offering a set amount of screen time the reward or even the return of items that have been confiscated... desperate times call for desperate measures!!! Lastly, I try not to offer food as a reward as I worry about setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy food habits.
- Chose a chart that 'fits' your child's interests and likes - This can be a highly motivating factor for a child! A Thomas train moving along a track towards Knapford Station for a reward might send a train-mad little one off to use the potty quick smart! Or a Dora the Explorer taking steps up the mountain? The possibilities are endless!
- Keep up the momentum - place the chart somewhere visible and accessible and make a point of reviewing it at least once a day!
As I've documented on my blog previously, all 3 of my kids are Lego (and Duplo) obsessed, and so the chart below has worked an absolute charm. The printable charts are available to download for free on the understanding that they are not altered and are used for personal use only (thanks!!). Simply click on the thumbnails below to open the full-size .pdf files. Print on standard letter sized paper (8.5'x11"), trim along the dashed line and affix to a wall so the bottom of the chart meets a table top or counter where you can build your Lego tower.
There are two charts to choose from: a Duplo chart for younger children (aged 2 and a half up to about 5) and a Lego chart for older kids (5 and up). You will need 10 Duplo blocks (the single sized ones with 4 knobs on top) or 20 of the square 2x2 Lego bricks. Keep them in a pot or sandwich bag next to the chart and get your child to add (or remove) a block as earned.
A 'girly' alternative!
Lego may not float your child's boat. And if you let your imagination run wild, it doesn't have to be a paper chart at all! Think of the popular 'Pandora' charm bracelets and you'll realise how much a new bead on a string might motivate a jewelry-obsessed little girl! Simply reward her with a bead for each positive step toward a target, and take one away for bad behaviour. Once the required number of beads have been earned she can wear the bracelet with pride (a built in reward!!!!). You can buy perfect little sets of beads from Melissa & Doug for this purpose: