Praise & Rewards
Motivating a toddler can be challenging. With new skills, a growing mind, and an “agenda all their own,” some have turned to reward systems. This can be as simple as offering a “sweet treat” for potty success to the high five and “good job” after helping to clean up a play area.
What's the difference between praise and rewards?
Praise is verbal feedback that is positive in nature. For toddlers, praise can be the right reinforcement that is needed to confirm that a behavior is both appropriate and desired. Praise should be specific (“you are doing a great job cleaning up the cars”) and timely (no need to wait until the total completion of task – sometimes, it is best when praise “captures” the moment).
Rewards may include presenting an opportunity for your toddler based on the completion of a task (i.e. “now that you have helped put away your toys, we can go outside and play”). Rewards may also be the process of giving a child something they desire (a sticker, a toy, a “sweet treat”) as a result of a desired behavior being achieved.
It is important to keep in mind the difference between a reward and a bribe. Rewards can be beneficial in setting up a “cause and effect” relationship in a child's life (after you get dressed, we can go play). Bribes may cause a negative effect, possibly influencing a child's decision-making of what they will (or will not) do based on what they perceive they will get. Although it might work at times, bribery should be kept to a minimum.
When using a reward system, also keep in mind the other values you are working to teach your child. Using sweets as rewards may seem to be effective, but what are you telling your child about the value of these types of foods in our life? Are there other items that are desirable to your child (i.e. a sticker, a walk to the park, etc.) that may work better?
Like everything else, praise and rewards should be used in moderation. Most children, and people, have a natural desire to “do good.” A child should not receive or expect praise and/or reward for every good deed or completed task.
Sometimes, the best reward comes from their personal satisfaction of a job well done.