Kids’ Reward Systems That Really Work

Transform your kids’ behaviour with a good reward systems

Finding the right reward system for your kids can bring benefits for the whole family. 

As parents, we’ve all been there. The eye rolls, tantrums and indignant looks whenever we ask our child to clean up, brush their teeth or stop that incessant yelling. But pulling your misbehaving munchkin into line needn’t be a tiresome tug of war. With the right reward system in place, you can encourage your child to pull their weight and smarten up their behaviour – without the tears and frayed tempers. 

The lowdown

Reward systems are a powerful means of positive reinforcement for kids, and an essential part of almost every mum and dad’s parenting toolkit. They work by rewarding desired behaviour, such as using good manners and completing chores, and discouraging bad behaviour, like fighting with siblings.

Parenting expert and counselling psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip says reward systems should be used as a guide for children, but parents mustn’t fall into the trap of feeling like they have to offer kids an incentive every time they want something done.

“It provides a clear indication of what you want the child to do or achieve,” says Dr Phillip. “We want to remain cautious a child does not expect a reward for every job or good behaviour they exhibit. This needs to be developed through pride of the child feeling good about themselves for accomplishing something they feel is meaningful.”

Getting started

The key to any good reward system is clearly articulating the goals: what exactly is it you want your child to do? Write up a list of the tasks and behaviours that will be rewarded; this should be done in collaboration with your child so that they take ownership of the system and feel empowered to participate. Next, identify some rewards with your child that you can do together. Perhaps you can see a movie, visit the zoo or go bike riding. Lastly, work out the parameters for giving a reward. Will it be weekly, monthly or whenever a set target is reached? 

Choosing your system

1. Reward board

There are myriad different reward systems you can introduce at home. One of the most popular is the reward board. Write up a chart with the desired behaviours and reward your wee one with a sticker, stamp or star every time they hit the mark. Come good on the reward once they reach their target.

Pros: The reward board is extremely versatile and can constantly be adapted to suit your child. You can break it down into days of the week, add and remove items, and personalise the chart to target problem behaviours, like bedtime mischief.

Cons: Kids can become overwhelmed, so try to focus on core tasks and behaviours.

The key to any good reward system is clearly articulating the goals

2. Marble jar

The marble jar system acts like a behaviour barometer. Add a marble every time your child is good, remove one when they’re bad, and offer a reward when the jar is full.

Pros: Kids respond to visual stimuli and will be motivated and excited to see the jar fill up. It’s a simple, flexible system with a clearly defined target.

Cons: The system doesn’t differentiate between tasks and behaviours, so it can be difficult to tackle problem areas.


3. Chore sticks

The chore sticks system works on a similar philosophy to the marble jar, minus some of the shortcomings. Write chores like “tidy room” on icy pole sticks and put them in a jar labelled “to do”. When the chores are completed, move them into the “done” jar and give a reward for your chosen number of finished tasks.

Pros: This system differentiates between chores and encourages kids to identify and proactively seek out jobs they can complete.

Con: Chore sticks are just that – great for rewarding chores but not so good for reinforcing general good behaviours.

Whatever system you choose, stay calm, be committed and remember, the carrot works better than the stick.