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Reward Charts Done the Right Way - an Answer to a Parent's Plea!

By Judy Flury, Ph.D.

Question: I have the hardest time getting my 9-year old to accept any responsibility around the house.  He’s supposed to make his bed in the morning, take the trash out and start his homework in the afternoons, and feed the family dog every night.  Even with just these four responsibilities, it’s a constant struggle to get him to do any of it.  I’m really tired of the day to day scolding, reminding, crying, arguing, etc.  Any suggestions? 

~ Dawn A.

 

Answer:

            Hi Dawn!  What you are describing is really not all that uncommon, so you’re not alone!  The “reward chart” technique often works best in these situations.   Just about all parents are familiar with a reward chart. 

You take a poster board or a large piece of paper and list down the left side everything the child is responsible for doing.  So your son’s four responsibilities would be listed down left side.  Across the top of the chart are the days of the week. Each time the child completes a responsibility, they get to put a star in that cell of the chart. So, for example, when your son makes his bed this coming Monday morning, he would get to put a star in Monday’s “make bed” cell on the chart.   

Once a certain number of stars are on the chart, the child gets a reward.

            Reward charts can work great, but a lot of parents aren’t aware of certain things that can “make or break” the success of this method.  Here are some things to make sure you do with your son so that this technique will work for you and make both of your lives more peaceful:

1.  Approach this as something really fun and exciting that he gets to do now. Don’t approach it with the attitude of  “you haven’t been doing well, so we need to try this to get you to do what you’re supposed to do.”  It’s much better to tell him that you both have been having a really tough time lately with the daily struggles, and that you know that he doesn’t like the daily hassles any more than you do, and so now there is something fun and new that will make the day better for both of you.   

        

2.  Involve him in the process.  Let him pick out the poster board, let him decorate it any way he sees fit, and have him write in his chores. Let him pick out the stars, or any other types of stickers that he would like to use.  This way it’s more of something for him, than something being done to him.

 

3.Let him pick what he gets for rewards.What you think he would want may not be what excites him most.These don’t have to be anything big, and shouldn’t be anything expensive.Examples may be an hour alone with you playing a game together, getting to pick a new video from the video store for an evening after homework is done, going out for an ice cream cone, etc. If he picks the rewards, he’s going to be much more likely to want to work for them.

     

4.Make sure that the rewards are not spaced too far apart.For a child, the requirement of getting all stars all week before he gets a reward is too long for him to see the relationship between his daily actions and his reward. Exactly how far apart they should be spaced depends on the child and the number/difficulty of the chores.While a daily reward is probably too often (except for very young children or for very tough cases), waiting a full week is probably too long, especially at the beginning of the program.

 

 5. Consider letting him “save up” the stars that he earns for even bigger rewards if he does want to save them and wait longer between rewards.  This gives you the added benefit of giving him practice at delaying gratification -- a key success skill that will serve him well later in life.

 

Don’t worry about “rewarding” him for doing what he should be doing any way.  We, as adults, do the same thing for ourselves -- we tell ourselves that if we work on that proposal for a full hour without stopping, or do our full 50 sit ups in the morning, then we will reward ourselves with a Starbucks after work.  It’s no different with the reward chart for the kids!




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