A Parenting Coffee Chat: How to Use Reward Charts for Positive Reinforcement

I'm handing over my blog to one of my dear friends, Kim, today.  Her children are the exact same age as my two. One day over coffee, I was complaining about my children's behavior, and I stated that I needed some parenting notes because I didn't have time to read a whole book. Well, that coffee conversation brewed up the first HinesSight Parenting "CliffNotes" that she wrote for us today.  

How to use Rewards Charts for Positive Reinforcement

Do you feel like you are constantly telling you child “no”?  Do you feel like a broken record?  It’s so easy for parents to fall into the trap of harping on negative behavior instead of accentuating the positive behavior.  Well, I have a simple, easy, “Why Didn’t I think of That?” solution to help you: Reward Charts!

When my second child was born, I fell into this trap with my oldest daughter, Alyssa.  She was BEGGING for my attention.  And any attention, positive or negative, was attention to her.  So, there I was, constantly telling her “no!”  It brought her down, it brought me down.  I started to feel like a terrible mother.  Until I realized something: by giving her attention for the bad behavior, I was actually motivating her to continue with it.  See, in her four year old mind, any attention was MY attention, something she so desperately craved. 

I needed something, and I needed it fast!  My poor sleep-deprived brain couldn’t handle anything too complicated, and Reward Charts were the perfect solution: simple, easy to use, and effective.  Sounds good, right? 

Here’s how they work:

*Figure out what motivates your child (i.e. what would be a good reward to her?)  Alyssa really wanted to see the movie, Toy Story 3, in the theater, so that was the reward she was working towards.  The reward does not have to cost money.  Some of the best rewards just involve spending a little extra time with your child doing something they love. 
*Create a chart with a select number of boxes.  At the beginning, I used fewer boxes so that she would get to the reward quicker.  The next time, the chart had more boxes, so it took a little longer.  I also added a clipart picture of a girl at a movie theater and text to remind of us of the goal. 
*Decide what behavior you are trying to change.  Make it as broad or specific as you want.  The beauty of this chart is that it is custom tailored to your child.  What is she doing that is driving you batty?  For me, Alyssa was just being plain difficult and demanding. 
*Turn the behavior into something positive.  For us, the target behavior I was seeking was that Alyssa be “helpful”.  I wanted something broad, and I could turn most positive behaviors into her being “helpful.”  If Alyssa did what I asked her to do, she was “helpful.”  If she behaved at the grocery store, she was being “helpful.”  If she was quiet when the baby was napping, that was “helpful.”  See what I mean?
*Every time your child demonstrates the target behavior, they mark a box.  Once all the boxes are filled, they get the reward!

 I loved using these charts because not only did focusing on the positive behavior, rather than harping on the negative, help Alyssa’s self-esteem, but the Reward Chart reminded ME to focus on the positive.  It was a win-win for all! 

Did I have to use the charts forever?  No way!  I just used them until her behavior improved, and then we stopped.  I do pull them out now and again when I fall back into the negatives or if she has started a new behavior that I want to put a nix on.  

Now, the real test will be how they work with her strong-willed little sister! 

And her little sister is my daughter's best friend.  Kim and I have known each other since our first children were babies. In her before-kids life, Kim was an early childhood educator with degrees in psychology and education.  These days, she can be found in carpool line, at PTA meetings, taking her kids to play dates, and enjoying all those everyday perks of being a mom to two wonderful girls.

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