Is Your Child Hooked on Rewards?

“What do I get if I do it?”

“How much will you give me?”

Heard these words lately from your darling offspring? If so, chances are your kid is suffering from a widespread kid epidemic called: “Hooked on Rewards.” (Translation: they expect the gold stars, stickers, or monetary prizes for a job well done).

Here's the danger: instead of developing internal motivation, these kids end up with a highly developed external dependence system that relies on someone else to acknowledge their actions. If you've noticed your child is expecting something for acting right, here are a few tips to help kids become responsible for reinforcing their own behavior -- without expecting something in return:

  1. Stop giving material rewards for every little thing. Take a firm stand against unnecessary incentives. Just expect your kid to help out at home and do the best she can in school and other activities so she'll learn to be self-reliant.

  2. Switch your pronouns from "I" to "you." The simple pronoun switch takes the emphasis off of your approval and puts more focus on your child's acknowledgment of her appropriate actions.
    The "I" statement: “I'm really proud of how hard you worked today.” The "You" statement: “You must really be proud of how hard you worked today.”

  3. Encourage internal praise. Point out what your child did that deserved merit and then remind him to acknowledge himself internally (to use "self-talk"): "John, you really made an effort not to say anything negative about the other team today. You were being a good sport. Did you remember to tell yourself that you did a great job?"

  4. State what you see. The next time your kid does something noteworthy, keep your wallet closed. Instead, state a simple judgment-free comment: “You rode your bike all by yourself!” or “Wow, you really put a lot of work into this report.” Or simply, “You did it.”

  5. Ask questions to boost internal pride. Instead of being so quick to reinforce your kid, find out what pleased her about the job she did. Ask her, “What was the hardest part about writing that report?” The trick is to nurture your kid's internal motivation by putting the success back inside her corner.

  6. Keep an accomplishment journal. Give your kid a small journal. At least once a week ask him to spend a few minutes writing (or drawing) his successes. This simple routine helps kids slowly recognize that they are their own best behavior guide and reinforcer.
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