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What if the Reward Program isn’t Working?

Young girl with curly hair frowning with arms crossed

Many parents think reward programs should work immediately to change a child’s behavior. It is important to remember that it takes time for behaviors to change. It will take time for reward programs to work. If you are patient and consistent in what you do, you will see an increase in your child’s good behavior. You will also see a decrease in misbehaviors over time.

What should you do if the reward program is not working? There are three things you can review and maybe change:

  1. You may need to think about what you are expecting from your child. Ask yourself: Can my child do the behavior I want her to do?  If you decide that you are expecting too much, you can make changes to the program. Be sure to explain the reason for the change to your child. For example, if you realize that you expected your child to make her bed but she cannot do that, you might say, “I realize that I should reward you for helping me make the bed. So from now on, you will get a prize when you help me make the bed.”
  2. A reward program also may not be working well if the behavior is not specific, clear, and easy for your child to understand. Ask yourself: Is the behavior specific? Does my child understand what I expect? If your child is not doing the behavior, it’s a sign she may not understand what you want done. As your child gets older, you can see if she understands by asking her to tell you what she needs to do to get a reward. Remember that behaviors should be specific and easy for you to see. Keep behaviors simple for young children. Click here for information on selecting behaviors to reward.
  3. Reward programs may not work if the rewards are not things your child is interested in earning. Ask yourself: Does my child like the reward I am offering? Does my child like other types of rewards better? Remember that things you like may not be the same as what your child would like to earn. Children also become tired of some rewards and develop new likes and interests. Keep a running list of rewards your child would like. Change and add to the reward list over time to continue to make the rewards fun and exciting. Click here for information on the types of rewards.