Reward System

By: Jessica Aldred

As parents of a school-age child and a preschooler, my husband and I often struggle with how to discipline or reward each of them without impacting the other. For instance, if we’ve promised an outing to a fun family location but my four-year-old has had a particularly bad day, it’s a tough call whether to ruin the fun for all, or for half of us, just to teach my preschooler a lesson. Likewise, how do we reward one for something the other one either can’t or won’t do to earn the reward himself?

Golden stars

My kids are less than two years apart and enjoy a lot of the same things and activities. However, they are developing at such a rapid pace that the expectations we set for each of them have to be different. We’ve recently resorted to a star chart, a sticker chart of sorts. While it does include several items that they are both capable of doing, such as tooth brushing or cleaning up the playroom, there are also some items on there that our younger guy can’t complete, like shoe-tying or finishing homework. We do our best to make up ways for him to achieve similar goals, such as creating homework suited to his developmental level or letting him just put on his shoes instead of tying them. However, he doesn’t have the attention span or understanding of the process to fully grasp the reward end of things. He’s just not old enough, or mature enough, to participate.

As a result, we fight a constant battle with how to reward one for good behavior, while not just rewarding the other to follow suit. Likewise, how do we punish one without impacting the other? They are both so affected by how the other is treated and rewarded/disciplined that it feels like it has to be an all-or-none situation. To complicate the matter, my youngest (with a tentative ADHD diagnosis) is emotionally immature for his age and is easily set off by frustration or not achieving a goal or task right away. So placing him situation that he could easily fail or not achieve the goal only fuels his frustration and can set off a downward spiral of behavior that can last for days at a time. We try to find ways to reinforce unsolicited good behavior with him, but it’s still a challenge.

My four-year-old is actually more excited when his brother achieves a goal than when he does himself. The things that motivate him are also very different. While my six-year-old is more interested in earning money and has the patience to save up for a bigger toy or electronic, my little guy needs the instant gratification to see the process as worthwhile. At the moment, his preference is candy.

I’m interested in to hear how other families handle the reward/discipline system for their children, and specifically for siblings. What are your methods for managing your children’s behavior?

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