Incremental Rewards to Motivate Your Kid’s Success

Creating rewards and consequences for your child’s behavior can help to put them on the pathway to success in their recovery. During a coaching call with parents, Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey discusses the importance of rewards and delaying rewards in dealing with problematic behaviors. At Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center, family involvement is paramount to recovery, and drafting “behavioral contracts” is crucial to the treatment process. While creating a contract for behaviors and negotiating with teenagers might seem strange, contracts can reduce stress, minimize conflict, set boundaries, and help your child succeed. 

Rewards to Motivate Your Child

Rewards are used to motivate your child to do the right things and making healthy choices. Incremental rewards can help your child understand the importance of long-term planning and goal achievement. When parents create contracts with their children, they should consider what is important to their children. Rewards and consequences will not work if they do not matter to the child personally. Parents can consider some of the following categories of rewards that most teens find essential:

  • Socialization
    • While we do not want our kids to isolate, we can teach them to balance their time with friends responsibly.
    • Kids may want to extend their curfew and push this privilege to the limit!
    • For example, if our kid fails in his or her classes, they might need to stay home on the weekends to study, or only spend a few hours with friends.
  • Media and Communication
    • Electronics, like phones and laptops, can be powerfully reinforcing for our kids.
    • These devices connect kids to popular media and their friends; however, sometimes, kids can get distracted or even addicted to these items.
  • Video Games
    • Much like phones and laptops, video games can be highly stimulating and addictive.
    • We might need to teach our kids to balance their free time and work time if they struggle to get away from video games.
  • Access to a Vehicle
    • How many times are you asked, “can I borrow the car?”
    • Vehicles represent freedom and the ability to get up and go–of course, our kids would want access to our cars!
    • We can use this privilege to teach our kids to behave responsibly.

Remember that even if our kids are paying for things themselves, we might need to intervene if they are not behaving responsibly. For example, your kid might be paying for their cell phone; however, you can set the phone usage rules in the home as a parent. You can also set rules for turning the internet on and off at different times of the day, have a “no phones at the table” policy, or other techniques. 

Incremental Change Leads to Positive Growth

When drafting a behavioral contract, we can look at ways of increasing our child’s freedoms as they comply with expectations. For example, we might set a curfew of 10:00 pm while allowing our teen to earn 15 more minutes for every three months of good behavior. Incremental change gives our children something to strive for in the long-term and helps them maintain their good behavior. This reward style also provides us with another means of reinforcement–they can lose 15 minutes for infractions upon the contract.

Another typical example of an incremental reward is giving our teens more time to spend on video games or recreation activities if they improve their grades. The reward is directly connected to the privilege because free time is earned by putting in work. Also, video games or other devices might be the reason for failing grades if your child is distracted by these items. By gradually increasing rewards, you can teach your child to balance their free time and work time. 

Additional Tips for Incremental Reward Systems

  • Be prepared to meet your child in the middle when negotiating these contracts. 
  • Remember to write everything down, which will take the emotion out of the negotiation process and provide a record of agreed-upon terms.
  • Be sure that the expectations are expressed clearly, perhaps with a calendar or other visual reminder.
  • Define behaviors and rewards clearly–you and your child might have a different definition of “curfew” or “good behaviors versus bad.” Be sure to have these things clearly defined and agreed upon!
  • Do your best to avoid making “snap” decisions during contract negotiation by preparing beforehand or saying, “Let me think about this for a day or two, then we will come back to it.”
  • Take your time when creating behavioral contracts! When discussed under pressure, contracts can get messy or confusing.
  • Stick to the contracts and expectations consistently! 
  • If you are divorced or separated, you might need to create separation with your co-parent’s expectations. Reach out to them and discuss the issues; however, realize they may disagree with you. The contract might only set up the expectations for your home and your time with your kid.

Incremental reward systems can be a highly reinforcing strategy in teaching your child to achieve long-term goals and gain access to privileges. When we negotiate behavioral contracts with our kids, we can allow room to earn additional freedoms with their compliance to expectations over a set time frame. When we allow our kids to earn more rewards based on their wants and interests, we can teach them that responsible behavior gives us more, not less, freedom. Lifelong lessons can be acquired as kids learn to delay gratification by earning the things they desire. Dealing with problematic behaviors can be challenging for many parents. We might have been raised to fear our parents and were never allowed the chance to speak up or negotiate with them. Using behavioral contracts as part of the treatment process, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center in Estes Park, Colorado, can teach you and your child the keys to creating a peaceful, healthy, and happy home outside of treatment. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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