Rewards can be an effective way to encourage good behaviour in kids, as they provide a positive incentive for kids to behave well. When kids know that good behaviour will be rewarded, they are more likely to repeat that behaviour in the future. Rewards can be anything that your child values, such as extra screen time, a favourite snack, a special toy, or pocket money.
In addition, rewards should be used in conjunction with other positive parenting techniques, such as setting clear expectations, using positive reinforcement (like praise and encouragement), and providing natural consequences for negative behaviour.
One of the best things about reward systems is flexibility. Whether you have a young child who doesn’t want to share their toys or a teenager who tries to avoid doing their share of tasks around the home, here’s how positive reinforcement can help.
What is a reward system?
A reward system for kids is a method of incentivising positive behaviour through the use of rewards. The goal is to encourage children to behave in a positive way by providing positive consequences for their actions.
A system typically involves setting specific goals or targets for a child's behaviour, and then rewarding them when they meet those goals. For example, a child might earn a sticker for completing their homework every day for a week and then earn a bigger reward, such as a special outing or toy, after earning a certain number of stickers.
Benefits of a reward system
Reward systems have a wide range of benefits for both parents and kids:
Motivation: A reward system provides a positive incentive for children to behave in a certain way, which can help to motivate them to make good choices and engage in positive behaviour.
Increased self-esteem: When children are recognised and rewarded for their positive behaviour, it can help to build their self-esteem and confidence, which can have positive effects on their overall well-being.
Improved behaviour: A reward system can be an effective way to reinforce positive behaviour and encourage children to repeat it in the future. Over time, this can lead to improved behaviour and a more positive attitude without the need for rewards.
Better communication: When a reward system is in place, parents and children have a common language for discussing behaviour and expectations. This can help to improve communication and reduce conflict.
Fun and engagement: A reward system can be a fun and engaging way to encourage positive behaviour. Children may enjoy working towards rewards and feel a sense of accomplishment when they achieve their goals.
What is the goal of a reward system?
The goal of a reward system is the encouragement of positive behaviours. While rewards may seem like bribery, there are some important differences between the two.
A reward is a positive consequence that is offered in exchange for positive behaviour. The reward is usually predetermined and agreed upon in advance, and the emphasis is on encouraging behaviour that is already expected.
Bribery, on the other hand, is the act of offering a reward in exchange for an action or behaviour that is not expected or appropriate. The emphasis is on getting the child to do something that they would not normally do or to behave in a certain way that is not in line with their usual behaviour.
The key difference between rewards and bribery is the intention behind the incentive. A reward is offered as positive reinforcement, whereas bribery is offered as a way to control a child's behaviour.
How do you create an effective reward system?
Creating an effective reward system for kids involves several key steps:
Identify the behaviour you want to encourage: For example, if you want to encourage your child to read more, you could set a goal for reading a certain number of books or for reading for a certain amount of time each day.
Choose appropriate rewards: Choose rewards that are meaningful and motivating for your child. Rewards can be tangible (such as toys or treats) or intangible (such as praise or extra screen time). One common reward is pocket money, and there are benefits to giving your kids pocket money but not all rewards have to be financial. Set clear expectations: Make sure that your child knows what behaviour is expected of them in order to earn the reward. Be clear about the criteria for earning the reward, and make sure that your child understands what they need to do to meet the goal.
Track progress: Use a chart or other tracking system to monitor your child's progress towards the goal. This can help to keep your child motivated and provide a sense of accomplishment as they work towards earning the reward.
Gradually reduce reliance on rewards: Over time, as your child develops good habits and positive behaviour becomes more ingrained, you can gradually reduce the use of rewards. The goal is to encourage motivation so that your child will continue to engage in positive behaviour even without the promise of a reward.
Types of reward system
There are several types of reward systems that can be used to encourage positive behaviour in children, and teens, including:
- Sticker token system: This system involves earning stickers for positive behaviour, which can be exchanged for rewards.
- Level system: In this system, children earn rewards for reaching certain levels of positive behaviour. For example, a child might earn a reward for completing a certain number of chores or for going a certain number of days without misbehaving.
- Points-based system: In this system, children earn points for positive behaviour, which can be redeemed for rewards. Points can be earned for specific actions (e.g. completing chores) or for overall positive behaviour.
- Mystery motivator: This system involves setting a goal for positive behaviour and offering a mystery reward for reaching the goal. The reward is kept a secret until the goal is achieved, which can add an element of excitement and motivation for children.
Reward system for 6 – 9-year-olds
For younger children, a simple reward system works well. At this age, it's particularly important for kids to know exactly what’s expected and to see the effect of their good behaviour right away. If you delay in rewarding your child, they might not fully remember what they got rewarded for, which can make it harder to reinforce good habits. This is where a good clear reward chart can be beneficial here, as it clearly shows them what they can do to receive rewards.
Top tips for success with reward systems for 6-9-year-olds
Give praise as well as rewards - younger kids might not fully associate the reward with praise, so it's important to make sure they feel good about what they are being rewarded for
Keep rewards simple. Rewards should be small and simple so that your child can associate each reward with the behaviour or task they did.
Explain why they are being rewarded. Make sure your kid knows why each task or behaviour gets a reward.
Reward system for pre-teens
Pre-teens can usually handle more complex reward systems, which means that you can start giving chores a value system. Your tween could earn a bigger reward for washing your car than a smaller reward for daily chores like making their bed. You can even give pocket money for chores or the chance to earn more for more chores.
As for rewards, here are 20 ideas for how to reward your child for doing chores, but be aware that tweens are at an age where extra privileges work well as rewards. They can be motivated by having a later bedtime, more screen time, a certain amount of choice in what they do at the weekend and even being allowed to have friends over for longer periods of time.
Related: Should we be paying cash and rewarding good grades?
Top tips for success for pre-teen reward systems
Ask what rewards they want. It's worth asking what type of reward your kids prefer for certain tasks. For example, ask if they would like more screen time or some extra pocket money.
Be clear about expectations, especially around chores; otherwise, your child may feel like they deserve a reward for a job you don’t feel has been done well.
Be realistic about what they can do. They may not be able to clean the bathroom to your standard, but is it good enough? Be sure to reward for effort as well as results,
Reward system for teens
Teens may feel they’ve outgrown the reward systems of their childhood years, but rewards still work well at a time when teens are seeking independence and more freedom. These rewards don’t have to be money and could be allowing them to stay out longer, venture further afield, have friends over, and go to parties or concerts.
For example, if you want your teen to improve their grades or help out more around the house, come up with a system of expectations and a reward that works well for both of you. Above all, involve your teen in the process of designing the reward system so that they feel invested and motivated to participate.
Related: The ins and outs of rewarding your teen
Top tips for success for teen reward systems
At this age, your kid will respond well to having more input in their rewards; and if they choose the reward, they’ll be more motivated to complete tasks.
Have a tally system for larger rewards - If there's a big reward your kid wants, like a visit to a theme park, you can tally up their progress to help them see how their rewards are adding up.
Consider extra rewards for unexpected good behaviours. At this age, kids are learning to become adults. If they've done an extra chore, helped a neighbour, or shown extra kindness, you might want to consider an extra reward, as this encourages them to take initiative in helping people around them.
Don’t underestimate the power of praise and recognition with your teens, they may be older, but they still thrive on knowing you see what they are up to.
Common mistakes to try and avoid with a reward system
Rewards are great way to motivate kids, but there are some issues to avoid:
Don't bribe. If your kid is showing bad behaviour, giving them a reward to stop can give the wrong message.
Keep rewards appropriate. A reward that's too big can look like getting something for nothing. Giving appropriate rewards can help reinforce the importance of hard work.
Don't expect perfection on the first try. It's going to take your kids a while to pick up some of their behaviours or figure out how to do chores properly. If your kid struggles the first time but is still trying hard, it's still important to reward them. You want to encourage them to act in the right way — getting it perfect will take a bit more time.
Set rewards with GoHenry
The GoHenry app makes it simple to set tasks for your children. You can assign each child a customised list of chores, and they can tick off tasks as they complete them.
This is a great way to keep track of tasks, and it can help your older children feel motivated to complete their chores. Once you confirm their task is complete, any additional pocket money you've decided to give them gets sent to their GoHenry kids debit card or teen debit card, making rewards easy.