Using Positive Incentives to Change Kids’ Behavior

I feel like I’m always saying “No,” and becoming such a nag. Aren’t there other ways of changing behavior?

MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Boston. I think one thing that you suggested for us that’s been helpful for the tantrums was the sticker chart.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): It could be a variety of things that you put on there.

MOLLY: We put a list that includes please and thank you, no tantrums, good table manners… and it’s all positive reinforcement. So every time my daughter does it –or rather doesn’t do it (in other words, refrains from having a tantrum..)–  she gets to put a sticker on the chart. Then after 5 stickers accumulate for the same thing, she gets to go to the bookstore and pick out a little paperback book.

MOM: I think it works extraordinary well with kids. Not so well with grown ups, but it works really well with kids.

MOLLY: At what age do you think you can start a sticker chart?

MOM: Well, I don’t know exactly, but I would say in the threes. You put the chart at eye level so the child can see it, and you explain what you’re doing very clearly. Then you have the child put the stickers on it. The first time around it will all be brand new to a kid, but usually they catch on pretty rapidly.

MOLLY: I like our bookstore reward because it’s not about toys.

MOM: Right, you’re not going to promise the child a big thing, just a little treat.

MOLLY: And the whole bookstore thing is an adventure for kids.

MOM: So it’s a win-win for everyone.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success changing your child’s behavior using other strategies. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.

ding 2 comments on “Using Positive Incentives to Change Kids’ Behavior

    • Leah,
      I really enjoyed your article, and am in complete agreement. While short term sticker awards or books work really well with toddlers and preschoolers, I don’t think that they are all that appropriate with age – and we know that behavioral modification doesn’t work at all with adults. The intangible reward system that recognizes the intrinsic value of learning and mastering is the longest lasting and the most meaningful. Really, a great article!
      Susan Rutherford, Psy.D.

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