If you think about it, an adult’s life -- as well as society in general -- revolves around responsibilities, incentives and rewards. You work, you get a paycheck; you work hard, you get ahead. Offering incentives to kids for good behavior, doing chores and helping out -- as well as for random acts of kindness -- are all moves in the right direction. Keep in mind, however, that an incentive can be a thinly veiled bribe, if it doesn’t have forethought. Consider putting your expectations down on paper with an associated incentive, so that your child knows what’s expected of him, and what the reward will be.
Making a Chore Board
The easiest way to fail "Incentives 101" is by not giving your child the benefit of knowing what he is working toward. Even though your toddler or preschooler probably can't read yet, sit down with him and make a chore board together; hundreds of stickers are available at most discount and teacher stores to give him a pictorial reference. The board should list the expectation, when the chore should be completed, and what the reward will be. Be flexible, though because what works today, may not work tomorrow.
Toddlers and children up to age 3 do much better -- and are more inclined to accommodate your wishes -- if they receive a reward immediately after performing the task. Put together a “treasure box” with items like stickers, crayons, markers, coloring books, small cars, and other dollar-store items. Keep a little coupon-book with coupons that awards treats such as an ice cream cone, lunch with mommy or daddy or picnic at the park!
Incentives for Helping Out
Small children love to help out around the house, which is why a booming business exists in toy lawn mowers, itty bitty vacuum cleaners and miniature mops and brooms. Ask your toddler to help you make the beds, pick up her toys, and put her dirty clothes in the laundry. As an incentive, provide scheduled reading time, outside time, playgroup or playground time. The one thing a toddler loves even more than helping out is one-on-one time with mom or dad -- so let that be the incentive.
Incentives for Good Behavior
There is nothing worse than visiting a friend and having your toddler dismantle her living room, one glass nick-knack at a time. Before you leave your house, show your toddler the chore board. Read the incentives for good behavior: an hour at the park, a picnic, a play date or sandbox time -- and have him pick one. But don't set him up for failure by not bringing something to occupy his time -- bring his favorite toy and a snack in case you stay longer than anticipated. Let the incentive be pre-planned; it shouldn't be masked as a bribe.