Using reward charts or other positive reinforcement tools, can be extremely effective. They allow for a child to be involved in the entire process of establishing a reward plan, and can include deciding what behavior goals to target, what will be the rewards on offer and how the reward chart will be designed and displayed. This is a powerful way to approach using a reward chart or other similar strategies (for example behavior contracts and using a token economy), because it gives your child a sense of ownership over the process….and this acts as a great motivator.
It must also be said that a reward chart also gives a child a perfect opportunity to really “see” their behavior from a different angle and how those behaviors relate to the goal of the reward chart. Simply, it gives them a chance to focus on their behavior.
Similarly reward charts give parents the opportunity to actively look for good, better or more appropriate behaviors and to acknowledge them appropriately. This is particularly important when we consider that these behaviors are usually more subtle and less obtrusive as compared with the brashness of bad behavior.
Reward Charts as a Cure-for-All??
So, reward charts are powerful?….Yes!
Reward charts are a creative approach to behavior change?….Yes!
Reward charts allow for children to self examine, actively appraise, and to moderate their behavior?..Yes!
Reward charts can inspire kids to “do better”, and for parents to “look for better”….Well, yes!
Reward charts can be the perfect conduit for any behavior change?…Well…No.
Let me explain…
Some types of behavior, or habits, or even when you are attempting to introduce more appropriate behaviors, are perfectly suited for using a reward chart. For example brushing teeth, feeding the dog every afternoon, packing away toys, being ready for school at a certain time each morning, are all illustrative of behavior that can easily be measured, accomplished and duly rewarded. Most of us would perhaps consider such goals as very achievable, especially with the added incentive of a reward chart.
However sometimes a certain behavior can be so ingrained and so deep-seated that whatever incentive a reward chart can offer is very quickly extinguished when a child keeps hitting those invisible “barriers”. And sometimes children are sophisticated enough to have that deep-down recognition that they can’t change a behavior that has been with them for so long. Or even that they are being asked to do something that to them may seem so far away, so unattainable. And to make things even more difficult, these are usually things that a child will want to change.
Using a reward chart in these situations may require a bit more of a long-term approach. The reward chart can be used to progress a part way along the behavior change path. Using this approach a child has the opportunity to experience the positives of achieving a goal without the demoralizing set-back of failing to achieve an unrealistic behavior change goal.
For example a child who is habitually aggressive toward their siblings, might respond well to the goal of limiting their aggressive outbursts, rather than attempting to eradicate the behavior completely in one reward chart attempt. Using a series of reward charts over a period of weeks or months, with each designed to take a further step toward eliminating the aggressive behavior, might achieve a much greater and more permanent result.
Hopefully I have established that reward charts are a fantastically effective behavior modification tool, and they can be so much fun for both children and parents alike. They can be highly adaptive, and can be used in a multitude of different situations and environments, targeting a wide variety of behaviors and behavior change goals.
However in some situations, with some children, their effectiveness can be diminished according to the strength of the “barriers” to any positive behavior change. Sometimes these children can be coaxed along the path to changing particularly ingrained or contrary behavior, one small step, one small accomplishment at a time…which can be simply fantastic!
Remember, reward charts should NEVER be considered the panacea for all bad behavior, nor for all contrary behavior, or even for changing all unhealthy habits. They are a TOOL that parents can use, amongst an arsenal of tools that a parent should have at their disposal. And here I don’t just mean products, items, and behavior change tools, but also other positive parenting approaches such as modeling good behavior (observational learning), positive praise, positive discipline, love, caring and empathy.
Always keep in mind that sometimes a child will require professional help to empower them to break those ingrained, damaging, destructive, or inhibiting behaviors or habits. Recognizing these may require not only our own understanding and knowledge of our child, but also by getting input from their teachers, family doctors, baby-sitters, and other family members.