How Can I Reward My Child’s Behavior in Recovery?

When teenagers are in recovery, the concept of rewarding acceptable and positive behaviors might seem a little strange. As parents, we might think, “why should I reward my kid for doing what they should be doing, anyway?” We also might think, “isn’t the reward of the good behavior enough? Why should I add anything extra?” When speaking from a behavioral standpoint, rewards can teach your kid to make the right decisions by rewarding with a logical consequence.

During a coaching call with parents, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center’s co-founder, Aaron Huey, discusses creating “behavioral contracts” with kids. These contracts can help kids succeed in their recovery following treatment. One of the most important aspects of behavioral contracts is creating expectations that motivate teenagers to make the right decisions.

What Will Motivate My Child to Maintain Their Recovery?

When kids go down dark paths and become addicted to drugs or alcohol or engaging in problematic behaviors, like cutting, promiscuity, or gaming addiction, parents want to get their kids back. Parents can get their kids back by motivating them to utilize healthy coping skills to deal with whatever underlying issues were causing problematic behaviors. Most teenagers are motivated by wanting more freedom and more control over their environment and lives.

Will Giving My Kid More Freedom Lead to Bad Decisions?

We might fear that the more freedom we give our kids, the more likely they will be to engage in problematic behaviors. We may restrict them from going out, using social media, or having any alone time to protect our kids. However, by limiting our kids from any freedoms, we do not allow the opportunity for learning and growth. Instead, we can look at what freedoms our kids want and teach them that responsible behavior leads to more–not less–freedom.

Rewards That Are Important to Kids

We can think of rewards for our kids as:

  1. List of things that we can provide
  2. List of things that we can take away.

How can we limit their access to specific items or privileges? What are things that they can earn overtime? Additionally, we can categorize rewards in terms of small, medium, and big. We can help our kids earn highly coveted “big” rewards using “small” rewards as stepping stones. Some of these may be change based upon your child’s preferences and desires; however, the following can be a guideline for you and your child:

  • Small Rewards:
    • These can be things like technology, phones, video games, or other items.
    • Small rewards are things that you can easily take away or regulate, like wifi usage or a cell phone plan.
    • As parents, we have more control over these rewards, like allowing our kids to earn extra time to play video games or additional phone minutes.
    • Curfew and time out with friends might be small or medium, depending upon your child’s level of responsibility.
  • Medium Rewards:
    • These rewards can be tricky to define; however, they are generally things that our kids can earn or agree to help them obtain when displaying positive behaviors.
    • You might use things like agreeing to help your kid purchase a guitar amplifier if they take lessons regularly for six months.
    • These rewards could be something like earning a video game if your child proves they can game responsibly without interfering with school work.
  • Big Rewards:
    • Rewards like these can be earned when a teenager demonstrates responsible behavior and recovery maintenance over long periods.
    • Some examples might be:
      • Using a car (highly motivating for teens!)
      • Picking which college they will attend (i.e., are they responsible enough to live on-campus and out-of-state, or will they need to remain closer to home?)
      • Freedoms that are more in-line with adult responsibilities and decision-making.

Define the Rewards and Expectations Clearly

Our kids may have a different idea of what seems like a reasonable expectation to earn rewards than we do. The expectations to earn rewards needs to be clearly defined. These definitions may vary from person to person or family to family. If you are unsure of reasonable expectations, like curfew times or access to the internet, talk to other parents or professionals. “Resourcing,” as Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey describes it, means that parents get opinions and ideas from sources outside of themselves when they do not have the answers. As you create a behavioral contract with your child, remember that the purpose is to teach your child the right way to earn freedoms by using rewards to motivate positive growth and change.

Rewarding our kids with more responsibilities and freedoms can motivate them to maintain their recovery following treatment. Behavioral contracts can allow you and your kid to discuss the expectations of coming home following treatment. Rewards can be thought of as things that we provide or things that we can take away. They can also be allowing freedom in decision-making when our kids prove themselves responsible enough to make important life choices. The key is to find things that are highly motivating for your kid. These are things that will excite them upon earning an item or privilege. They are also things that your kid will be upset about if they lose for their behavior. If the consequence or reward is not important to your kid, then changing their behaviors will not matter. If your child struggles with problematic issues, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center of Estes Park, Colorado, is here to help. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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