It can sometimes be challenging to find ways to motivate children that do not involve screens, treats or quick bribes. While these rewards are not bad in and of themselves, it is good for children to learn how to “save up” for a larger reward. I recommend finding a positive reward system that reflects your goals and family values and implementing one that you make as a family. Even at a young age, children can contribute to setting goals.
You may also set goals around challenges. For example, if it is hard to get out the door in the morning, sit down with the family and talk about what everyone needs to do in order for the process to be more manageable in the morning. Set goals that reflect the conversation and allow everyone to contribute and make suggestions. There are many examples of positive behavioral reward systems out there. Search the internet and you can find different types to choose from. Look for one that is in line with your family goals.
In our house, we use a jar reward system that we first implemented when my daughter was two years old (I modified the Mama Miss Dazzling Deeds: Good Behavior Jars). We have 10 jars with tokens in them, including beads, sea shells, puff balls, buttons, wooden letters, glass stones, foam stickers, and little animals. Each of the jars represents something she is learning to do. Her goals include: getting dressed, eating the food she asked for, making a safe choice, being a good listener, going potty, being kind, cleaning up, no fuss (this one she gets when I ask her to do something and she does it without complaining), being a helper, and dazzling deed (when she just makes a really good choice without me asking for anything at all). Anytime she does one of these things, she gets one of those tokens which she gets to put into a larger jar. The larger jar has three different lines on it. When she reaches the first line, she gets to pick a big treat, like going out for ice cream. The second line, she gets to choose an adventure, like going to the zoo. When she fills the jar she gets to pick a book to buy for her personal library.
For older children or teenagers, it could be getting homework done, doing household chores, telling the truth even when it is hard, or standing up for someone even when it was hard. Choose things that you are working on and make a jar to represent each of those things. You certainly don’t need 10 jars; just pick a few goals that make sense and that are made together. Set values for the large jar together too. Maybe they earn a monetary value or that you purchase something. But you could also set it to be something less expensive, or not a purchase but something you do together such as a favorite meal, a parent and child hike, or a bike ride. You can even make reward jars for yourself! Keep a jar for finishing a workout, meeting a deadline, or being patient with your child or partner.
For social distancing and quarantine purposes we have modified these rewards. Treats are now at home but we let her pick toppings for ice cream like chocolate chips or sprinkles and have a sundae party. Adventures are on foot but she is satisfied with being in charge of which direction we walk. We are still able to order books which makes it doubly fun because she also gets a package delivered. For older children this may become a little more challenging. Consider putting money into savings and the adventure fund grows to become a weekend camping trip or something big for when we are able to be out and about.
Whatever you decide to put in place, make sure the goals are decided upon by everyone in the household or individually one on one with your children. Even with our two year old, we listened to her input on what she wanted to learn to do and the things that she wanted to earn. Certainly you can guide them to goals that also reflect things you are hoping to instill in them but are always more successful when we include our children in the discussion.