Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Incentives & Rewards for Children's Behavior, Part 1 of 2

I strive to bring as much delight as I can into all of the children's character and behavior training.  So I look for the little things to praise for and try to jump at those with affirmation.

  • Mini sticker charts
  • Scratch-n-Sniff stickers
  • Honey on their tongue
  • "Ice cubes"
  • Jelly Bellies
  • Competing with themselves
  • "Smackeroo kiss" or a squeeze hug
  • A little more of a movie or documentary
  • Crackers for 5 minute success
  • Earning Money

Now I am very aware that there is value in children doing things simply to develop good character; but we also do not think there is anything wrong in offering a tangible reward sometimes.  When daddy goes to work, he is rewarded for his effort by his paycheck.  So from what we've learned it is also fine for children to experience rewards when they do good work or have personal successes.  Since I've been asked for specific strategies for incentives and rewards with the children, here are 9 ideas for you...

Mini sticker charts

This was a main incentive strategy that we used in our home for a long time.  When the children were younger we kept a mini sticker chart for each of them on our white board next to the dining room table and kitchen, as well as a sheet of mini stickers for the charts. 

I gave stickers for a variety of reasons:  someone sitting at the table for an entire meal when they usually struggle with that, completing assignments on task or more quickly than usual, perseverance when something feels hard, volunteering to aid someone else, when they finish their entire 24 oz. water bottle in a day, and when they clean up all of the toys in the family room / kitchen / playroom areas within one upbeat song I play for them.  When one child earned a sticker and another child would say, "Hey, can I have a sticker, too??" I would always tell them, "Yes, when you have your own special achievement."  I  would explain that Brandon (for example) has been sitting on his bottom all of lunch time, and if they choose to do that tomorrow as well then they can earn a sticker, too. Incentives are earned.  If I hand them out to everyone when only one person actually earned it, then the person's effort who earned it is nullified. 

I also gave stickers to our 1 and 2-year-olds sometimes when a sibling earns a sticker because these little guys don't have very many opportunities to earn stickers for themselves, and the older children understood this.  When I had time I do look for ways to enable a young child to earn a sticker and they just about burst with pride.  *chuckle*  I had a 1 1/2 or 2-year-old carry baby bottles to the sink for me, or push in all the chairs up to the dining room table, help me pick up Cheerios from the floor, or help put a toy away in a basket.  They usually put the sticker on their forehead.  *smile*  And when they're about 3-years-old they are becoming old enough to have their own sticker chart and understand the accumulation process and working towards a reward.

When the children finished a five-sticker row they may choose between two different rewards:  either one Jelly Belly candy, or $.50.  The older ones nearly always chose the money, and the younger ones who didn't understand the value of money yet chose a candy.  When the money-earning children realize that they can fairly easily earn $2.50 total for completing one whole chart, they are even more motivated to get each sticker.  Even though the children are being tangibly rewarded for their good choices, it is still establishing good habits, and the younger children have a good model to follow in the older children's behavior.  That is very worth one Jelly Belly or $.50 to me! 

When a chart was completed we all cheered for that person and then I taped the completed chart on the refrigerator for all to see, and it usually went from there to someone's "special personal things" box that they each have.

I buy these "Personal Incentive Chart Bookmarks" for $3.99 for a package of 24, in varieties of themes from ShapesEtc.com, and 2 packages of matching-themed little 1/2-inch stickers for $1.79 each for 288 stickers.  Two packages of stickers will cover all 24 charts.

Scratch-n-Sniff stickers

I remember loving scratch-n-sniff stickers as a child.  They really are so much fun in my opinion, and our children love to smell them when they receive them.  I use these stickers strictly for school work.  I permit the children to put the sticker anywhere on their consumable workbooks or papers, either at the top of the page or on the cover of the book, but I encourage them to put them on the cover of the book as much as I can as they then see their growing sticker collection every time they sit down to do homeschooling.  This is a great start for a homeschool morning!  A big smile at the sight, accompanied by a nice scent, and a "Look!  I can do this!" attitude.  *smile*

These stickers can be purchased inexpensively online from StickersGalore.com., ranging in price from $2 for 60 stickers (three cents per sticker), to $13 for 480 stickers (two cents per sticker) - which is the one I buy, and they last me for at least 2-3 entire school years so I don't even have to think about running out for a long time.

Honey on their tongue

Whenever I hear one of the children offer some "sweet" words to a sibling without my prompting them to do so I try to remember to give them one drop of honey on their tongue.  Words like, "You look pretty today", "Great job finishing your school work so quickly today!", or "You go first; I'll go next" - these are sweetness to a sibling's soul (and to a Mamma's!).  And while they're sucking on their drop of honey they say the scripture Proverbs 16:24 with me, "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones" to bring home the reason those words are so valuable to someone.

Ice cubes

Once in a while Bob and I love to drive through Cruisin' Coffee for a treat while we're out, and our oldest daughters like to purchase for themselves a Strawberry Cool Flavored Cream drink.  But before they were earning their own money to spend on things like this once-in-a-while, they desired to have a Cool Flavored Cream but it was expensive to buy them for all of the children simultaneously (and didn't want them drinking it in the car anyway).  So I came up with an incentive to help them individually earn a drink. 

I purchased from the Dollar Tree store near us a bag of glass "ice cubes" and put a drinking glass of the cubes on the counter in the kitchen.  


I also purchased from the dollar store two clear plastic drinking cups, and I cut out a piece of pink construction paper and taped that to the back side of the plastic cup so that it looked like there was a pink drink inside of the cup.  Every day that the girls completed their morning jobs chart without being reminded about any part of it, they earned one ice cube.  When the glass was full of 14 cubes (about 2 weeks) then we purchased for them a Strawberry Cool Flavored Cream of their own.  If they did not complete their chart one day, they lost an ice cube from their cup.  And if they ever falsified their chart in order to gain the reward (checking off part of their chart which they did not actually complete), then their entire cup was dumped out and they started over.  The reasoning for this was if their character showed that they were willing to falsify their chart one time, how could we know they hadn't falsified the earning of other ice cubes?  So they lost the whole cup.  But the girls enjoyed special drinks every two weeks or so, which was not too expensive for mom and dad, and we only needed to purchase one at a time.  The next older children in the family are boys and they were not particularly interested in earning special drinks (having the drink, yes, but not earning it *wink*), so we have not continued this incentive for them yet.  

This same idea could be done using fish tank rocks, to earn a new little fish; with coins to earn money towards a purchase; with paper tickets to earn a movie theater trip with a parent or a movie from the $5 DVD bin at Wal-mart; or with little 3/4-inch colored "counting bears" to earn a $5 toy of their choice.

Jelly bellies

I purchase a large container of Jelly Bellies from Costco and keep a small jar of then in a kitchen cupboard to be handed out at my own discretion to reward a child's behavior.  I nice treat that all of the children enjoy, but not so much sugar that it will ruin their appetite or even effect their health.  And the kids delight in trying to figure out what flavor theirs is.  I keep a little "map" of the flavors of Jelly Bellies that I got off of a small package from the store, in the bottom of my jar so that we can look up the flavor when we want to.  *smile*  


The children earn Jelly Bellies for completing a row of their mini sticker chart (above previous incentive idea), or for doing a great and quick clean up of the house when they're told to, for getting ready to go to the car quickly, for offering to do a job for me on their own initiative, etc.  I don't let the children request certain flavors, otherwise we'd be out of those flavors all the time and other children would be complaining or disappointed that I didn't have the one they wanted; rather than just receiving what is given to them and being grateful and appreciative.  And if a child is pouty when their siblings earn a Jelly Belly and they do not, then we feel that is a fine lesson to be learned.  Each child is in total control over whether or not they earn a reward.  If they pursue the reward whole-heartedly, they earn a reward; if they do not choose to rise to the challenge, then they do not earn one.  Simple.  And yes, I do adjust what is "success" based on each child's age and ability.

Competing with themselves 

Generally, I try to have children compete against themselves instead of against each other.  For example, trying to finish a math lesson in less time than they did one yesterday (with a timer), or sitting two meals in one day instead of the one meal they did yesterday, or picking up a whole room full of toys instead of just part of one room.  They can try to put their dirty clothes into the hamper before I can count to 5, or go get something for me from down stairs before I can slowly count to 15, or read 7 pages in their chapter book compared to the 5 they read yesterday. 

Now our boys do enjoy some competition with each other and it's a great motivator.  I can say, "Who's going to be the first one to have their hair and teeth brushed!", and this usually triggers race mode.  *smile*  But at the young ages of only 8 and 5 I do need to make sure it's the right time for them to feel like competing.  When they're older competition between kids is great!  Competing with themselves works much better, though, generally.  I may say, "Now yesterday you were dressed by the time I was done sorting the laundry; today see if you can be dressed before I am done sorting the laundry!"

A "Smackeroo kiss" or a squeeze hug

I do often strive to just offer what I call "Smackeroo kiss" as a reward for good works, which is simply burying my lips into their soft little cheek and giving them a long, noisy kiss.  *chuckle*  And amazingly enough, they're satisfied with this!  Of course the children often ask for a Jelly Belly or a sticker when they've done well, but much of the time I simply say, "No...but you may have a Smackeroo kiss [or a squeeze hug]!"  And they laugh  and love it.  *beam* 

Last bit of a movie/documentary

We often try to leave the last 10-30 minutes of a movie or a documentary hanging in the balance, awaiting the children's completion of getting ready for bed quickly, or cleaning up the house before lunch, as a reward for quick compliance.  I'll pause the documentary before it's over and tell them what they need to do before they get to watch the end portion, and I set a time limit so that no one person can drag out the receiving of that reward intentionally by taking 20 minutes to get ready for bed, for example.  I'll tell them that I will be playing the end of the documentary in 10 minutes for anyone who is back here and ready.  This helps kids move way faster than they do when the movie just ended and now it's time to go to bed.  *wink*

Cracker for 5 minute success

When I have had a 3-year-old learning to do "towel time" activities during our homeschool morning, I started out by rewarding his staying on the blanket to play with a pretzel or a small cracker every time a 5 min. timer goes off.  If he was playing on the blanket the whole time, he's earned his pretzel.  If the timer goes off and he's not been on the blanket the whole time then I explain to him that he didn't earn the pretzel that time because he was off the blanket; but tell him I'm sure he'll choose to stay on the blanket now for this next 5 min.  And when he does 5 minutes pretty easily (may take a couple of weeks of practicing every day) then we move up to 10 minutes, and maybe 15 minutes later if he's able to do it easily.  For one little son he did 10 minutes increments for 2 years, but it helped him remember what was expected of him.

Earning Money

When our children desire to earn money then I give them extra work to do around the house or yard.  They all have their usual weekly jobs that they are expected to do just because they are part of our family, but there are always extra jobs that I usually do but I am happy to pay them to do for me!  *smile*  And I pay pretty well for each job because Bob and I desire for them to have money to learn to work with, and I desire that the children are eager to do the job.  It's great extra help for me, and they learn to enjoy doing good work, and they develop additional skills which they wouldn't otherwise be learning right now.

I generally pay $1-2 per job, with a couple of exceptions that are $.50 jobs, or $1.50 jobs.  For many years I kept the cleaning of toilets and showers for myself (other children do the easier and more sanitary jobs of clean sinks, floors, mirrors, and counter tops), unless an older daughter desires to earn money then she gets paid to clean all 3 bathrooms.  The children volunteer for paid jobs, to mop one of the three bathroom floors, or the kitchen, or entry way; they wipe out the refrigerator or freezer; clean window blinds; sweep the front porch and path; weed; and sweeping the back deck of debris (really just a job for practice in sweeping, or because someone desires to earn money and do good work, not because I strive to keep our deck free of branches and pine needles *smile*).  I've tried to develop the mindset when I see a job that really needs to be done around the house but I don't have time right now (like the refrigerator, or the window blinds) to offer it up as a "paid job."  And the child and myself are both thrilled about it!  *cheer!*

I would love to hear what other ideas you have for motivating your children!  I believe the more ideas we have in our "tool box" for parenting, the better.  *smile*

Blessings on your efforts,

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    1. I found your blog through searching for blogs on large families. I enjoy seeing how other people structure their home and ideas they have about parenting.

      I was rather surprised to find how much I enjoy your blog and I'm just thrilled to have come across it. I'm surprised because I'm not similar to you at all, but I love all the things about you that are different from myself. I'm not Christian, but recently I've been craving more spiritual connection, I only have one child (on purpose ;)) and I work outside of the home and plan to send my child to public school (with a great deal of supplemental work at home). I do live in Utah, though, although I'm in the Southwest.

      My point to this was to tell you that your blog is smart and funny, practical and nurturing. I'm quite impressed and I'll be back for more mom tips!

    2. TWOP FAN - Thank you! I'm so pleased that you find it so even though we're different types of people and families. =) I love your choice of complimentary words - that means a lot to me. I so desire to be "approachable" to all kinds of people. Looking forward to your participation in our blog.

    3. Hi Erika

      One question...how to do protect those plastic/glass ice cubes from ending up in little mouths? I worry that they look so real that they might be perceived AS real.

    4. Thank you for this post! I have to daily work on looking for the positive things my children do instead of only seeing the negative. Thank you for the reminder and tips!!!

    5. Hi Erika,
      I love everything you are doing and would love to be able to implement some of this in my own family. Practically it just doesn't work. I have tried some incentives before with stickers but I struggle with remembering or even noticing when the children do some of the things they are supposed to do to earn the stickers. I'll be doing something with another child and miss what the other child has done. Then we got into that child telling me how good they were because they did "such n such". That just seems like boasting to me and that's already a problem. I want to reward them or the system isn't going to teach them the character I want them to learn. How do you practically work this out? Thanks for your help!!!!

    6. MARIE - Yes, I am very aware of choking hazards around our home (or anyone's home!) To the point where even our 4-year-old would pick something up and run to me and say, "Mommy! This is a choking hazard!" LOL - His big words cracked us up. Well it was never an issue with the ice cubes as I kept the cups way back on the counter top where other kids never payed attention to, but where I saw them all the time to remind me to be doing it.

      MOMMY- Yes, it is a conscious effort that takes practice. I've been working on this consciously since before I was a mommy but was a teacher with 26 students. Now it's real natural, but some days are harder to see the good stuff. ;)

      CYNDI - Yes, I don't do all of these things all of the time; these are things I've done over time and off and on. The honey one I rarely remember, but when I do they love it. I keep the current incentive right in front of me where I see it all the time, like on the white board which we use all day every day; but the sticker charts can still "become part of the board" and seem invisible some how. =) The kids remind me, though, and that's actually how I remember! As far as boasting goes, in my opinion it really depends upon how the words are said. They can be said with "bad pride" as we call it (boasting or bragging), or with "good pride" (being pleased with themselves that they did good work - which is healthy and good). I have personally chosen to stick with the incentive plan and teach them about "bad pride" and "good pride" in the midst of it. If I detect bad pride in someone's words I simply say, "That is actually bad pride. We shouldn't brag about how great we are. BUT you can tell me when you are feeling good proud of your accomplishments and I will celebrate with you!" And our children have learned the difference. And I would also encourage you to consider why a child feels the need to brag. They may need more proactive celebration and acknowledgements from parents, and then they won't feel inclined to brag. And I'm only speaking from experience. I think every family deals with children's pride issues along the way; we're all human. =)

    7. That makes a lot of sense Erika. Thanks so much for your response!!!
      The "good and bad pride" are very good ways of explaining it. I'm very thankful for other mom's to glean from :).

      God Bless You and your family!!!

    8. Wonderful post! I love your blog and am so happy I found it! ;O)

      I have just a quick comment to add to the "pride" discussion. At our home we always differentiate between being proud and being pleased. The scriptures teach us that pride is not good. We basically do exactly as you only our vocabulary clears up any confusion to little ones as to how something can be good and bad. Does that make sense? We never say, "I'm so proud of you." We always say, "I'm so pleased with you." :O)

      Keep up the good work Erika. I truly enjoy reading your blog and am currently working my way through your archives. :o) Thanks so much!!!

    9. Super ideas! I completely agree with you about giving kids rewards! Thanks for sharing those links - I especially love the personal incentive bookmarks. I think I will order some! Even older kids love a reward system - and you are right, as adults we are "rewarded" with a paycheck.

      In my 13yo daughter's middle school, the kids each have a name plate on the wall of their homeroom. The kids can earn seals (which are basically glorified stickers) to place on their name plates for doing things in school such as earning straight A's on their report card, doing community service, completing special projects, etc. I am amazed at how motivated the entire student body is to earn those seals - and these are 12-14 year old kids! The students are so proud to have their name plates filled with as many seals as they can earn. I find it interesting that this school also has very few discipline issues or bullying problems, and wonder if it is because the focus is on positive reinforcement. Anyways, as always - great post!

    10. I was wondering at what rate you give out stickers. A couple per day? A sheet per week? I love the idea, especially as a way to keep myself accountable for praising the children (which I often forget to do with lots of little ones), but it seems to take a while before they earn anything.

    11. SARA - You know...I just pass them out whenever I feel like it, whenever I'm pleased and desire to show them so (plus with kisses/hugs/praise). I don't have any list of what I'm looking for, I just keep it very flexible, otherwise I find what you've found, they never quite reach my expectations of them. So I give stickers for all the little things. I left the room, come back and someone is still working diligently - I give a sticker and tell them they did well staying on task. Other kids are disobeying but one is not joining in but is on task, I give a sticker. If one finished their water bottle that day - a sticker. If someone lept up to help clean up immediately upon being told - a sticker. If someone is working at cleaning up diligently - a sticker. I give them liberally and as quickly as I can. We've been doing this for a couple of years now and they never tire of getting stickers. Maybe because each sticker works toward another goal of completing a row on their chart, and then there's another reward of $.50 or a Jelly Belly. =)

    12. For incentives and rewards, we use computer game minutes. We have tried so many things and this works SO good and easy for us, especially for boys! The children earn minutes for completing school for the day, for completing their chores, and for completing extra jobs. It also works fantastically for discipline. We can be in public and I can start counting. 1, 2, 3... and the numbers mean something. It means I am subtracting minutes! Sometimes I count by fives - aaah! They can only use their minutes at certain times during the day and they have to have earned at least 30 to get to play. We set the timer in the kitchen and let them play. We allow them to trade in 60 minutes for $1 if they would rather earn money instead. This has also allowed the children to nearly master the art of bartering and bargaining, and it is done in fun. Sometimes, if I need something done pronto, I will give double minutes.

    13. Great blog! I have some questions about the children's money that they earn. Do you help them each keep track of their money? If so, how? What do you do when they purchase things that just add to the clutter and they don't want to get rid of them?

      1. Hi Tammy. =) Each of the children has a money box where they keep the money they receive or earn. If out littlest four (ages 3, 2, 1, 1) receive money I just keep it in an envelope for them until I come across something I'd like to purchase for them on their behalf with their money.

        Our middle three kids (ages 9, 6, 5) save their money and when they have enough they get to spend it on a purchase they've had their eyes on, but which is "okayed" by Bob and I. We don't let them buy whatever they want; it has to be of value (which can include Match Box cars or Transformers for them), appropriate, and not have to be managed by me (such as pens or paints that I would need to keep track of). We don't let them buy things that just add to clutter. =) So they don't have things that I desire to throw away.

        Our oldest two (ages nearly 13 and 14) have an envelope system which we help them to manage. They each have 5 envelopes which they divide their income in to: 40% goes to savings, 40% to free spending, 10% to Tithes, and 10% to emergency fund. We keep their money in our safe which is not always accessible to them, so they also have an envelope where they put money as they earn it, and then at some point we open the safe for them and they divide it in to the appropriate envelopes.

    14. Thank you for this post. I love the variety of incentives you use. I need a system to help me find ways to praise my kids, as I tend to only see the mistakes. I think we'll try one or two of these! :)

    15. Sorry! I realize this is a really old post. :) I just wanted to say that I decided to order the personal incentive charts from the website you mentioned, and everything looked great, until it was time for payment. Shipping was going to be $20! On a $14 order!! I thought, this can't be right! Surely you don't pay that?

    16. Sorry! I realize this is a really old post. :) I just wanted to say that I decided to order the personal incentive charts from the website you mentioned, and everything looked great, until it was time for payment. Shipping was going to be $20! On a $14 order!! I thought, this can't be right! Surely you don't pay that?

      1. That can't be right; unless you live out of country maybe. I would contact them directly. They're only mailing posters; it's not like they're heavy.

    17. I love your blog it is so wonderful!! i has helped me so much with my family of 4 children from 5 and under. May God bless you!! I am actually Jill Smith. This is my husands computer. Thank you so very much for sharing!!

    18. Ericka, I just ordered from them and the shipping was $3 (unless I picked UPS and then it would be $22). Also - they have sets now with the stickers for $4.99 for the whole deal - sheets and 288 stickers :)

    19. I love the idea of rewarding good behavior, but I must admit I am much more indulgent.

    20. First of all...I love that you guys call big kisses on the cheeks Smackeroos! That is what my little boys always call them.

      We do some of these things (our children are ages 12yrs to 17mo), but I had never thought of Jelly Bellies- great idea!!

      I always find your posts so refreshing and encouraging.
      Thank you from a mama of soon to be seven (due next month)!

    21. Love this post Erika! Great ideas and will incorporate most of them. To be honest, I really liked knowing what kind of struggles you have with your kids and how you counter them positively. Thank you.
      Also, the dollar store has little incentive pads and stickers. Those would be a bit cheaper but I can't speak to their quality as we've never used them. Just thought I'd mention it.

    22. We use a little character traits chart during school. It gives children check marks for focus, diligence, neatness of work, participation, etc. They can earn money ($0.05, $0.10, $0.25) as they progress in earning check marks for each trait.

    23. Erika,
      Thank you for this post, it was such a blessing to me! The "ice cube" idea especially!

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