As parents, we often wonder about the best approach for promoting good behavior in the family. This becomes a bigger question when we have a child who throws tantrum or presents us with behavioral issues or perhaps has ADHD. What works – or doesn’t? The SHEMESH behavioral expert shares her insights for handling difficult behaviors and answers the question: Do rewards work?
Does a reward system work?
Reward systems work to change behavior when they are properly designed. The following are some basic pointers.
First, a specific behavior that one wants to see more of should be targeted. For example, “being good” is vague and difficult to pinpoint if and when it happened, whereas “getting dressed before 7:30 a.m.” is easier to keep track of and reward.
It is also important to pick a behavior that is in the person’s repertoire. If a child doesn’t know how to do something, it will not help to create a chart to reward that behavior.
Next, criteria for how and when the target behavior must occur need to be defined. Last, a reward that will maintain or increase the target behavior needs to be chosen. Keep in mind that what is rewarding for one individual might not be rewarding for another, and what is rewarding enough to maintain one behavior might not be rewarding enough to maintain another. Suppose I gave you one dollar every time that you locked the combination lock when you came in the door, that might be enough to reinforce that behavior. But if I gave you one dollar every time that you cleaned out the whole garage, I don’t know if we’d be seeing an increase in “garage cleaning.”
Most importantly, designing a good reward system can only be helpful if it is really implemented!