Rewards can be very powerful when teaching your little one the ins and outs of life. When done well, these externally motivated acts eventually morph into internalized, habitual behavior.
What does that mean? That means if you use a rewards system the right way, you can eventually change your child’s negative behavior, remove the rewards and your child will still incorporate the new behavior.
How can you turn challenging behaviors into learned behaviors?
As you start, reward a desired behavior every time it occurs. Then, over time, give the rewards less often. This is important so that the child understands that once they’ve mastered something, they don’t need to be rewarded every time. Take potty training for example. In the beginning, we set up our rewards and make the biggest deal out of every attempt. Fast forward to when your child is 10. If you still rewarded them for the same feat, they may roll their eyes and say “mooooooooom”.
It is important to wean a child from rewarding a behavior once they’ve learned to master it. Why? If a child comes to expect the reward for behaviors they already know, rewarding will become less effective.
How will you know when?
Every child is different. You’ll know when your child has mastered a behavior when they’ve done it for about a week with no complaint. This is just a rule of thumb. Some may master the behavior quickly, while others may take longer and that’s ok. When you believe your child is ready to be weaned off of rewarding a behavior, have a conversation with them about their accomplishment. Tell them you are very proud of them and explain that now that the training part is done, they will now get a reward every third time they do it. Still praise them with positive praise to reinforce the good behavior every time, but leave out the reward until every third time or so. You can also choose to lengthen this over time and eventually your child will wean off the need for the reward.
Eventually, instead of giving the reward on the third time, give them a compliment. In the beginning, make it over the top. For example, if they got dressed for the day with no complaint, you can say “Wow (child’s name) I’m so proud of the way that you got dressed this morning. I’m really proud of you, you’ve learned how to do it all by yourself with no complaint.” Follow it up with a personal touch like a hug or high five to make the connection even warmer. If your child asks, can I get my reward? You can reply with:
If you are still working on shaping other behaviors:
“You must be so proud that you’ve learned to________”. You know what, since you’ve learned that behavior now, you don’t need a reward for it anymore. Let’s start working on something else you can earn rewards for.”
If you are done working on behaviors for now:
“You must be so proud that you’ve learned to________”. Since you’ve learned that behavior now, you don’t need a reward for it anymore, but you know what?” Since I’m so proud of you let’s celebrate your accomplishment by doing an activity together, your choice. Would you like to ____ (choice one), (Choice 2), or (choice 3)?”
Most often kids naturally phase away from rewards since the behavior now becomes a habit, and that’s ok. If this is the case, you can let it go naturally. You don’t have to officially mention the end of the reward or feel like you’ve let them down by not giving it. Feel proud that you’ve helped your little one successfully navigate another chapter of growing up.