Parents and carers use a variety of strategies to motivate children to change their behaviour, and one of the simplest and most tangible is a rewards chart.
Often used as a last resort to kick-start behavioural change, a rewards chart can be a powerful tool in a child’s development – but only if they’re used in the right way.
Here, we give advice on how foster carers can use a rewards chart to bring about positive behavioural change in children, as well as a list of tactics to avoid.
- What are Reward Charts and How Do They Work?
- Tips on Creating Your Own Rewards Chart
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Rewards Chart
What are Rewards Charts and How Do They Work?
A rewards chart works on the basic understanding that a child will be rewarded for doing something they don’t enjoy or find difficult, such as chores, homework or even going to bed. They usually come in the form of a poster or calendar that you can hang on the wall and add things to, though there are now smartphone apps which do the same thing, such as iRewardChart.
On the rewards chart, you list a series of goals that you want a child to hit, and they work to achieve these to earn points, stickers or ticks. Once they’ve reached a certain number of gold stars or points, they’re given a reward – be it a bar of chocolate or a weekend free from daily chores.
Examples of some of the goals commonly used on rewards charts include:
- Discouraging bad behaviour, such as swearing
- Keeping their bedroom clean and tidy
- Brushing their teeth, morning and night, without any fuss
- Doing homework or reading without complaint
- Washing their hands after going to the toilet
Reward charts work best when the goals are small and achievable, though you should ramp things up every few weeks to ensure continuous improvement. While rewarding children for such basic things could be viewed as spoiling them, the idea of a rewards chart is to slowly build good behavioural habits and develop a positive association with tasks and work.
When used properly, this kind of tool can be powerful in influencing behavioural change in your foster child. Some view reward charts as a way to bribe children into doing what you want, but it’s really about reinforcing good behaviour. For many foster children, achieving even simple tasks can be difficult, as it goes against how they’ve been raised up until this point. That’s why the prospect of a reward can be so effective in bringing about positive change.
Tips on Creating Your Own Rewards Chart
Before tacking a rewards chart to your wall, you need to think carefully about what you want to achieve, what your end goal is and the stages of development you’d like to see before a child can earn a reward.
Below, we offer tips on setting up an effective rewards chart in your home
Step 1: Choose What You Want to Change or Encourage
Think carefully about the child’s behaviour and come up with a list of behaviours you’d like to change. Whether that’s reducing bad behaviour or encouraging them to carry out certain tasks without any fuss, you need to have clearly defined goals that the child will understand. Jot these down, and then you’re ready to start mapping out the chart.
Step 2: Start Creating Your Chart
Whether you choose a physical chart in poster form or a smartphone app that lets you and the child track their progress across multiple devices; it needs to be easily accessible and available to reference and adjust throughout the day.
For younger children, we think a brightly coloured poster with fun stickers works best, as it has a visual element which will help keep things simple and tangible. Stars, smiley faces or coloured dots; the choice is yours when it comes to stickers, just make sure they’re the sort of tokens that the child will be proud to earn.
If you’re using a rewards chart with older children, a smartphone app may be a better option, as a poster could be seen as childish. The great thing about reward chart apps is that they let you monitor their progress and reward points anywhere, anytime – so they’ll always feel like their achievements are being properly recognised.
Whichever you choose, list each goal clearly and use well-defined increments which show exactly when the child can expect a reward.
Step 3: Choose Rewards Carefully
The trick to rewards chart success is to constantly build towards a primary reward goal, with each stage reinforcing good behaviour as the child works towards something they really want. Don’t offer the grand prize too soon or a child may lose interest; instead, offer small short-term rewards that gradually get better as the weeks progress. For example, start by offering something small like their choice of film on a Friday night, and gradually progress to something more valuable, like a day out.
Step 4: Monitor Progress to Measure Behavioural Change
If you’re trying to encourage genuine behavioural change in a child, you need to make sure the rewards chart is working and isn’t simply allowing them to earn rewards without really changing their behaviour. To monitor their progress, you need to watch them carefully and track how they perform each week when carrying out a particular task. If standards slip and you don’t think the chart is working, don’t be afraid to abandon it in favour of a different behavioural improvement strategy. Your local NFA support group is a great place to learn new tactics from fellow foster carers.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Rewards Chart
A rewards chart is only useful if you and the child follow through on it and it’s set up properly with achievable goals. Here, we look at the do’s and don’ts which can mean the success or failure of your rewards chart.
- Do recognise when the child is behaving well – you need to be extra-receptive to a child’s behaviour. Direct acknowledgement and praise is a great way to reinforce positive behaviour.
- Do give them a sticker or token straight away – children need to see that their hard work is paying off, so don’t skimp on the stickers or they’ll quickly lose interest.
- Do offer short-term rewards – rewarding the child with small tokens will keep them motivated towards achieving the end goal and will show them that you mean it when it comes to rewards.
- Do try to stay positive – a rewards chart is a strategy that relies on positivity, so even if they fail at something, encourage them to try again and avoid threatening them with taking stickers away.
- Do follow through on the rewards chart – if you set up a rewards chart, you need to see it through. If you don’t, the child could not only return to old behaviours but develop the idea that quitting or giving up is often the simplest way out of doing something you don’t want.
- Don’t choose rewards they can get anyway – you need to be clever about what you offer as a reward, and make sure it’s something that they can’t easily achieve regardless. Otherwise, your chart is doomed to fail from the get-go.
- Don’t give rewards too easily – you don’t need to reward the child for every little thing they do, so always stick to the chart and only offer rewards when you think genuine progress is being made.
- Don’t think of a rewards chart as a bribe – while you might be glad that their room is finally being kept clean and tidy, you shouldn’t see a rewards chart as a way of bribing your child. This is about reinforcing good behaviour to bring about genuine change and help them develop valuable life skills.
- Don’t overuse the chart – tantrums and bad behaviour will still happen regardless of your chart, so don’t set too much store by it and use it in a regimented manner. Remember that your foster child may have deep-rooted behavioural issues, so don’t expect too much of them too quickly.
- Don’t just offer material goods as rewards – while some rewards can be special treats like this, you should include other things too, like a trip to the park or their choice of music on the next family road trip. Get creative and come up with fun rewards that will help you bond as a family.
A rewards chart is just one strategy foster carers can use to bring about positive behavioural change in a child. Learn more about our foster care training and support.