Rewards & Consequences

10 Rewards to Inspire Your Child’s Best Behavior

There is no magic in parenting. No one gleaming reward will convince your child that chores are fun. But the right incentive can save you from a lot of nagging, reminding, and bribing. Try these 10 parent- and expert-approved prizes that work.

A child reaches for the moon as an example of a reward system for kids that works.
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Boring = Impossible?

Our kids can focus for hours on a video game they love, but when it comes to getting through a whole textbook chapter or homework assignment, they are suddenly short on concentration. It's not willful defiance; just another characteristic of this complicated condition. ADHD disrupts willpower, "that intrinsic drive to achieve our goals, even in the face of boredom or adversity," says Russell Barkley, Ph.D.

ADHD makes it harder for our kids to do something tedious in return for a future payoff. But the right reward can help them persist and stick with a task that, absent any external motivation, they might otherwise abandon. Read on to learn the top 10 ways to help your child push through dull assignments or chores.

Mother and daughter putting star on reward chart, easy system for kids
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1. A Reward Chart

A reward chart promptly awards good behavior with tokens, such as stars on a chart or coins in a jar. Once a certain number of tokens is earned, your child collects a predetermined reward, like a trip to the movies. "The goal is to gradually decrease undesirable behaviors and reinforce appropriate behaviors by using a token system based on rewards and consequences," says Linda Karanzalis, M.S.

"We use a marble jar to reward cooperation with daily tasks and with finishing school work. When the jar is filled, he gets to pick out a toy he's been wanting." –Cindy C.

"As he collects stars throughout the week, he earns an iTunes gift card. The more stars he gets, the more money he gets on his gift card." –Nicole

Parents sitting in the back of a van with their kids, talking about a reward system
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2. A Fun Activity

Promise a fun activity after chores and homework are completed; this can act as a light at the end of the tunnel to help kids push through. "After school, allow your child to decompress for 30-45 minutes and then it's time to get down to work," says Dr. Liz Matheis. "Help your child choose a fun activity to do once homework is completed."

"We use Groupon or Living Social Deals for kids' activities that are around $10. They expire, so there is a firm deadline as to when the reward will disappear." –Sabrina

"All weekly to-do items must be done by Friday evening to earn something fun that weekend, like going out to lunch." –A Murray

Piggy bank and coins as part of a reward system for kids
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3. Cold Hard Cash

"Honestly, money is the best motivator for our son." –Rachel

"We use a magnetic chore chart. My son moves individual tasks from 'to do' to 'done' each day. If he doesn't do a particular task, a predetermined amount of money is deducted from his weekly allowance. No arguing. He tends to pay extra attention to completing the tasks the following weeks." –An ADDitude Reader

"In our house, we have an allowance system," says Susan Kruger, M.Ed. "If someone is having trouble completing a 'magnet task,' it will cost him. I first give him a warning. If I have to prod again, I walk over to their allowance wallet and charge them anywhere from $0.25-$2.00, depending on the age of the child and the severity of the issue. Taking their hard-earned allowance money away makes the problem urgent to them."

In other families, the opportunity to earn a set amount of money based on completion of each chore or task works. Kids get to choose how much they earn by how much they do.

Kids playing a card game with a reward system
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4. Time with Friends

"Looking forward to spending time with friends — at a play date or sleep over — help to motivate our daughter. It is only effective 50 percent of the time, but that is better than zero percent!!!" –Lisa W.

"Wanting to spend time with friends causes children to get homework done more quickly," says Susan Kruger M.Ed. Make a special slumber party an incentive, or create an extracurricular activity that is contingent on getting chores done. If your child doesn't finish her work, she doesn't get to go to dance class.

Mother and daughter cooking together as a reward for good behavior
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5. Time with Mom & Dad

"On a daily basis, parents should try to be physically active, spend quality time with family members, and pursue 'hands-on' interests like cooking, reading, and gardening," says Randy Kulman, Ph.D. Setting aside 15 minutes to spend with your child several times a week, and letting your child choose what you do during that time can build a stronger relationship, and make your child more willing to complete the tasks you ask.

"What really motives my son is increased mom time in the evening doing the activity of his choice. So I often find myself fishing, bug hunting, and rock collecting as a reward for reaching small goals, set up to help get him successfully thru a school day." –J_boots

"One-on-one 'date' time scheduled as a reward motivates my child to complete tasks. Things such as having lunch at the local private airport and seeing the airplanes, or earning a one-hour session of baseball catch with dad, or an afternoon with grandma and grandpa really work as a motivation." –An ADDitude reader

Boy watching TV as part of a reward system for good behavior
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6. Screen Time

"For the larger tasks that require a bit more motivation, the reward is finding out today's wi-fi password!" –JCA_BelAir

"Screen time is my son’s favorite reward, and if we need serious motivation, we use a new game as the bait." –Amy

"Cell phones, computers, and video games should be privileges earned only after your child puts in work to improve executive function skills and to practice goal-directed persistence," says Peg Dawson, Ed.D. One of the keys to enjoying iPads and video games is learning time management. Using electronic devices should be a special treat earned after all required tasks are done; this can teach scheduling and moderation. Kids love their devices so much, they are bound to do whatever parents ask to gain access.

ADHD boy eating ice cream as a reward for good behavior
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7. A Sweet Treat

"We use small rewards for daily success. He really likes bottled iced tea, so that works!" –Carey

"A drink that contains some sugar helps homework performance," says Ann Dolin, M.Ed. "Sugary drinks provide glucose, which is the primary source of fuel to the brain." Giving kids a sweetened beverage to sip on can help them hate homework less with a little treat, and improve focus and mood.

"We tailor the reward to what would motivate our son to do the work at hand. It allows him to be invested in the outcome. Sometimes the reward is candy or going out for ice cream." –Stephanie L.

As a bonus, relaxed times going out for ice cream as a family provide just the change of pace your child needs to de-stress after a day's work.

Little girl thinking about her reward system for good behavior
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8. You-Pick-It Reward

"The reward that work best for motivating my children is asking them what they would like and, within reason, using that as incentive." –Kimberly

"We offer a wish-list option. They are allowed to indicate a wish they have and want to work toward." –Nanci Feltner

"We created a currency for our son. He has a list of tasks to complete, and each is worth a set value. Then he can spend it on whatever privilege he likes. The amount each privilege costs varies on how often we want him to be able to use it." –Cristin

"We just started with laminated 'reward' cards that our sons can earn. (Things like five minutes extra computer time; Choose what to watch on TV; Stay up minutes past bedtime, etc.) They get instant gratification by physically choosing their card and putting it in their 'rewards envelope'." –Charity Respass

Children — especially those with ADHD — have a hard time seeing the long-term value of homework assignments or chores. Offering them concrete rewards along the way is a good way to help them maintain motivation.

Father and son discussing a reward system for good behavior
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9. Positive Reinforcement

"The best reward for my kid is constant feedback that is positive, or encouraging, or supportive or constructive." –J. Inglis

"I send positive text messages to my son that help him stay motivated throughout the day." –Michelle J.

"Sometimes, something really simple such as telling them they did a great job and really, really helped Mommy goes a long way." –Kimberly

"Praise good behavior immediately and often," says ADDitude writer Royce Flippin. "Positive reinforcement is the best behavioral tool, especially when it comes from a parent."

Children with ADHD spend a lot of time being reprimanded and told what they are doing wrong. "Praise is especially important for children who have ADHD because they typically get so little of it," says Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, "They get correction, remediation at school, and complaints about their behavior. They undergo testing, and are expected to feel grateful for constructive criticism."

Well-timed encouragement from a loved one can give your child a boost of determination to live up to the vision of a successful, well-behaved child they see through your eyes. Compliments can help draw out more persistence than your child realized she had.

Mother hugging her ADHD kid as a reward for good behavior
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10. Hugs

"I use different rewards for each kid, depending upon time of day and what they need to get done. Hugs and snuggles motivate my kinder- and middle-schooler before school." –Jeannie O.

"Both of my girls can ask me for 60 seconds whenever they want. If I am busy at the time, I try to stop what I'm doing and just stand there and hug them. Our 60-second cuddles have helped them feel loved and calm down if they need it." –Felisha T.

"The most important thing you can do for your daughter about her ADHD is to provide unconditional love," says Melissa Orlov. "Laugh about the predicaments in which you find yourselves. Give lots of hugs, and find things at which your daughter excels."

Showing your child that you love, value, and respect him is a cornerstone to helping him stay motivated. No matter how hard it is, and how much he struggles, it won't make you stop loving him.

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