Tangible & Intangible Rewards for Good Behavior in Children

by Dana Tuffelmire

    Parenting is full of challenges, with getting your kids to behave high on the list. Many parents commonly use motivators to get children to behave or to perform tasks around the house. Sometimes tangible motivators, like a piece of candy or a new toy, is in order. Other times an intangible reward, like extra television time or playing a game together, is more appropriate. Knowing when to employ the right type of motivator helps teach children the value of good behavior.

    Tangible rewards can also be referred to as extrinsic motivation. When you offer tangible rewards, you are telling your child, "Do this, to get this." Perhaps you have told your child she can have a sucker if she behaves at the doctor's office, or a sticker for sitting quietly while you talk on the phone. By contrast, intangible rewards are rewards that you can't see, feel or touch. You've probably given your child a hug, high-five or a kiss for cleaning up her toys, or promised to play a favorite game with her if she took a nap without crying. Intangible rewards provide a more intrinsic form of motivation, where your child does something in order to be praised or to feel good about herself.

    Children thrive on positive reinforcement, often responding better when parents recognize the positive as opposed to constantly punishing the negative. Rewarding desirable behaviors with intangible rewards teaches children that positive behavior reaps better rewards than negative. Praise and recognition can go a long way, especially when it's given by an adoring parent. When your child acts the way you want him to act, let him know with enthusiastic, specific feedback, like, "Honey, I am so proud of you for sitting in the grocery cart today. You acted like such a big boy!" Follow up with a shower of kisses.

    Tangible rewards are acceptable when they are used sparingly and with purpose. Even a toddler will catch on quickly if you give her a sucker every time she behaves well at the grocery store. Soon, she'll be screaming if you don't produce a sucker the moment you leave the store. If you mix it up by giving her a sucker every two or three grocery trips, she will learn that the expected behavior may or may not be rewarded with a sucker. Sticker charts allow you to track positive behavior and reward your child with a tangible treat after she has exhibited multiple episodes of positive behavior.

    Use your parents' intuition to guide you in your disciplinary efforts. If you feel like you are giving your child too many tangible rewards, you probably are. Children need your love, affection and attention daily. When your child's behavior seems to be deteriorating, try spending extra time with him playing a favorite game, reading or snuggling. Reward positive behavior immediately and specifically, letting your child know that you are proud of the behavior. Always set a good example for your child by modeling the behaviors you expect of him.

    About the Author

    Dana Tuffelmire has been writing for DMS for three years. She taught elementary school for seven years and earned a master’s of education degree with a specialization in literacy. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two sons. Her dream is to one day write a children's book.

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