Kids should behave! Why do we reward them when they do??!
Why should we reward kids for behaviors they should be expected to do??!!
This is one of the most common questions I get both in my practice and when I consult for day schools. There are two primary goals that a reward system accomplishes.
Focus - When a reward system is done properly, the intention of the system is to bring hyper-awareness to the behavior that we want to be modified. We want both the caregiver/teacher as well as the child to understand what behavior we are looking to modify. Ideally, charts should have no more than 2 -3 behaviors at a time. Even adults, when given 10 things to do at a time, we can get overwhelmed and spread ourselves thin. However, if we have 2 jobs that we have to perform, we are more able to focus on those tasks and do them well. I tell parents/teachers to prioritize the top most important behaviors. This helps the caregiver focus on what the problem is, instead of a broad “doesn't listen” statement. In addition, it helps the child learn where he/she should put most of his effort.
Routine - Charts are not meant to stay in place long term. The point of the reward system is to create a sense of routine. Children are focused on the behavior they are modifying and they learn what it is like to be successful at it. For example, when adults take a vacation, it is hard to get back to work after a long break. Once we are back into a regular routine it’s not so hard anymore because we have returned to a system and we get into “cruise control”. It is the transitions into new jobs or after breaks, that we need a push. Charts are there to push children through a hump and into a routine. This helps children feel successful and feel what it is like to take control of their behaviors. Once they are in a routine, the hope is that they will go on cruise control. Once we have accomplished this, we can slowly reduce the rewards.
Rewarding good behavior helps keep children focused on doing the right thing and helps them create a path for success. Remember, adults like to be rewarded too! Salaries, promotions, compliments, recognition, these are all rewards for our behaviors!