Most parents know that rewards can be the Holy Grail to managing our kids' behavior. Whether it's cleaning up after playtime or finishing homework, rewards can grease the wheels and help family life run a bit more smoothly. Even if we don't want to admit it, many of us -- even the best-intentioned -- have found ourselves doling out rewards such as sweets. Let's be honest... they work (especially when our "mini-me's" are in full meltdown mode)!
That being said, we don't want to undermine our children's health by continuously rewarding them with sweets, or creating extrinsic motivation by using unhealthy incentives. Is it possible to promote new, healthy behaviors while also incentivizing our kids, or does that sound too good to be true?
You may be thinking, "Great, I'm sold, but how do I do this?" Here are some tips to get you started:
? Say NO to food rewards! Giving your kids a sugary treat is usually the easiest reward, but it doesn't mean it's the right one.
By associating food with a job well done, you can undermine healthier habits that you're also trying to instill. Additionally, it starts encouraging kids to eat whenever there's food in front of them rather than when they're hungry, which may lead to excess weight gain and an unhealthy relationship with food.
? Non-food rewards. Rewards increase children's motivation to complete a task, so go ahead and use them, just stay away from food rewards. Here are our favorite non-food rewards to keep your kids motivated:
? Stickers, pencils, pens, and erasers can always do the trick. Find some appealing (and wallet-friendly) character stickers here or fun pencils here
? Certificates of Recognition, including pre-created PDFs that you can download and print for free here
? Coloring books/pages
? Fun and colorful bookmarks and rulers
? Trinkets such as magnets, Frisbees, bouncy-balls, Slinky toys, and more
? A new book
? Extra time outdoors
? A trip to the library or zoo as a family
? Get creative! Kids enjoy most rewards and special privileges
? Physical activity (or lack thereof) shouldn't be a punishment. We all know that kids love recess, PE, and playing outdoors, but taking this time away from them as a form of punishment is counterproductive.
Many kids are already short on the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, so try not to limit them any further. Plus, they might be misbehaving precisely because they need to burn off extra energy!
Forcing children to do laps or push-ups as punishment isn't a good idea either, because it might lead them to avoid these activities altogether. Significant research shows that increasing physical activity can actually help with better behavior and academic performance. So use a program like Adventure to Fitness as a healthy, physical activity reward or to get the wiggles out during a quick break!
? Be a role model for earning and enjoying rewards. Last but not least, your kids look up to you (even if this doesn't always seem to be the case). You can be a visible role model for your kids if you:
1. Set an example for positive goal-setting behavior
2. Identify rewards you'll give to yourself upon achieving those goals
3. Most importantly, follow through and demonstrate the enjoyment you feel from earning your rewards
I hope these simple tips can help you reward your kids in a healthier way, while still keeping them engaged and motivated!