Setting up a Reward System for Positive Behavior...

In my practice, I use a reward system when children are "brave," or follow through on a task assigned to them. I find that parents are reluctant to put a reward system in place at home for multiple reasons, but the most common fear that parents share is that their child is going to suddenly want "something" for everything.  The simple fact is, we ALL do better when we're working towards something, and rewards are a part of life. While setting up a reward system might take some time (and I know time is precious as a parent), if it helps your child feel better just think of all the time you'll have freed up!  Bravery work is already difficult...but being "brave," in the process of overcoming an anxiety disorder is REALLY hard work.

So here are a few simple tips on how to create a successful reward system for brave, or positive behavior:

1. Make clear rules around what the requirements are for receiving the reward, and decide on those rules together.

2. To help decide on what the reward will be, have a discussion with your child about what is they really LOVE to do. What brings them joy? What tastes REALLY good? Who is their favorite person to spend time with? Rewards do not have to be monetary based...in fact, special time with a parent, loved adult, or friend is often times the most valued reward of all. If your child is on the strong-willed side and suddenly can't think of anything they like to do, it's probably because they are already getting to do a lot of it...for free!  This calls for making some adjustments and setting up a system so that they are "earning"  time on the computer, playing Minecraft, screen time, etc. via the positive behavior rules you have already set up.

3. When setting up a reward system with young children (1-6 yr olds), make sure they are receiving the reward very shortly after they do the desired behavior. For example, if you're practicing separations and your asking you child to spend 5 minutes alone in their room while you're in the kitchen, give them the reward as soon as their time is up. If it's Monday, they will not grasp waiting until Friday for their ice cream cone.

4. Consistency is key. Children like to know what to expect, especially anxious ones. Be mindful of your own emotions, and the desire to bend the rules to make your child feel good in the moment. We all know that the best rewards are the ones that we receive when we work hard.

Eventually, children find that the true reward is in feeling and doing better...but sometimes we all need a little push to get there.