We’re All in This Together: The Cost and Benefits of Rewards

We’re All in This Together: The Cost and Benefits of Rewards
By Marc Bermann, JCFS Foster Parent Recruiter/Trainer

As the holidays approach, we sometimes equate the value of a gift with the level of love and caring we have for a particular person, or as a symbol of the gifts of the Magi during Christmas or the gifts to commemorate the miracle of the oil lamps during Hanukkah.  Although children don’t always understand the emotions associated with “gift-giving," they might be happier if they get what they want during the holidays or on their birthday. But, rewards for doing something good, or just doing it at all, is quite different than receiving a gift with no expectations from the gift-giver. Therefore, in a larger context, it is important for parents and caregivers to understand the real meaning, cost and benefits of giving rewards to children and youth in care.

Rewards have some cost, either in money or in time and effort. Before deciding on a reward, think about what the behavior change you want is worth to you. Is it worth 15 minutes of your time? Is it worth a small amount of money? Rewards become more meaningful when a child can help choose them and how to earn them. For example, if he wants a new video game, he can earn it by doing his chores every day for a couple of weeks. Or you may agree to give him $2 a week for the chores, with the idea that he can save the money toward buying the new game. Long-term goals need to be supplemented with daily rewards as well. Don’t promise more than you can afford. Don’t promise time that you don’t have. Encourage him to do well and reward him for it. The plan does not work if you are not happy about giving the reward, it creates unhappy feelings.

Children can outgrow certain rewards. A toy that was important to her one week may not be important the next week. You have to stay in tune with children’s changing tastes and needs. Some parents see rewards as a form of bribery, but there is an important difference between bribery and rewards—or any type of encouragement. A bribe is given BEFORE the behavior, with the hope that it will influence the child to do what you want. A reward is given only AFTER he has done what you want him to do.

Some children with a trauma history have difficulty accepting rewards or praise. If they are not used to hearing praise, they may seem unaffected by it or they may be suspicious of it because they think there are “strings attached”.  The best praise for a child is the unexpected comment, such as catching her doing something good; “Thanks for cleaning up your room” or “I’m glad you finished your homework before dinner”. Leaving a note at bedtime or on her breakfast plate makes a child feel confident that she is doing well in your home; that her good choices are appreciated and the praise or reward is genuine and well-earned.

It has been shown that children respond to encouragement. Paying attention to good behavior, using praise and staying positive can lead your child to see the advantages in better behavior. Over time, a more peaceful household and a more confident child are the result.

Remember, we’re all in this together, in the best interests of the children and youth in our care. Wishing you Peaceful Holidays and a Happy New Year! For more information about JCFS Foster Care, call 312.673.2755.