A question that we hear constantly is “When do we start using a reward chart?” There is no hard and fast rule to the introduction of a reward chart (actually there are some important considerations – more on that later), but generally speaking, a reward chart can be started whenever you notice your child displaying inappropriate behavior, or you want to tidy up bad habits, or you want to introduce more appropriate behaviors, or you want to encourage better habits. Of course these are examples as to the underlying motivations to introduce using reward charts. Often a parent’s motivation may be in relation to very specific behavior such as hitting a sibling, or refusing to go to bed, or to encourage brushing teeth, or keeping a tidy room, and so on.
While reward charts and their use can be very flexible, so too can be your reasons and motivations to start using them, but I mentioned earlier there are some important considerations:
- Never introduce a reward chart to your child in moments of anger or frustration. For a reward chart to be successful your kids need to be on board, and frustration won’t be a good foundation. If your child has misbehaved, it’s always best to calm down before starting a reward chart. A classic mistake is when a parent, at the end of their tether, yells to their child, “you’re starting a reward chart NOW!” This reward chart is set up for failure and even more frustration.
- Consider if the desired behavior change is appropriate to your child’s stage of development and their age. It may simply be that what you expect from your child may just be out of their reach for now. One of the main goals of the reward chart is to make it achievable.
- Further to this is to consider whether your child is actually acting in a “normal” way. Think about your child’s age, personality, and physical and emotional development, before deciding if your child is behaving inappropriately.
In summary, to make the most out of using a reward chart and to give it the best chance of success, plan for the reward chart. This might include but will not be limited to:
- Decide if the behavior is inappropriate, or the behavior change is achievable for your child.
- Introduce the reward chart to your child in a calm and rational way, not in moments of anger or frustration. Encourage their input.