Responsible Children Part 2: Rewards and consequences for behavior

posted by: By Mary Ann Wilcox


By Mary Ann Wilcox


In last month’s article we talked about why it is important to require children to accept work assignments around the house, and how those assignments become a training ground for life. We also discussed the role of parents in establishing a work environment that builds children’s confidence, instills a work ethic that will ensure they are employable as adults and develops an attitude of service.

In this article we will present hints on how to accomplish these lofty goals. Being consistent in requiring children to help, setting meaningful deadlines, disciplining effectively and providing rewards and consequences are some of the methods that have proven helpful.

Be consistent in requiring children’s help. Even though the type of job may vary from day to day, children should be used to fulfilling some kind of responsibility every day. Once the work routine is broken, it is difficult to get children to cooperate and the complaint cycle comes into play. Decide what you expect and then stick to it. They will accept their assignments as a matter of course.

Set deadlines — Meaningful deadlines are one of the most effective tools for developing good work habits because they have a built-in reward and punishment system. Mealtime, playtime and bedtime are transition times that provide natural deadlines that are easy to enforce. Here are some you might want to put into practice:

Everyone is to be dressed, rooms tidy and beds made before they come to breakfast. A child is not allowed to eat until these tasks are completed. If he dawdles, he chances having a cold breakfast, missing breakfast completely, or fixing his own.

Daily chores are to be done before school, play or outside activities. If a child dawdles, he chances being late for school, missing the bus, or having to walk to school. In the case of missing a bus, mother might choose to take the child to school in return for a slight charge, extra work assignments or equal time. Tardiness at school could be handled by having the child miss an activity, or make up the missed time.

The bathroom must be clean before children are allowed in the tub or must be cleaned before starting another activity.

The house must be free of clutter before stories, activities, TV or video games. Assign each child to pick up 5, 10 or 20 items in a room (depending on the size of the mess). This seems to be the quickest method of handling clutter.

Pay for services rendered — Children who have difficulty keeping track of their belongings, or enjoy delegating this responsibility to a parent by default, can be taught the value of work by having to pay for services rendered. A clutter bag or the “big blue bucket” (as I call it) is a helpful incentive in this case. As you find clutter, put it in a grocery sack, tub or box and require payment in either money or extra work for articles retrieved.

Be sure that a certain time each week is set aside for the reclamation of all items in the bag. At the appointed time, the bag is sorted, articles paid for, and all items returned to their proper place by the child. This even works with teenagers.

A friend of mine got tired of her 16-year-old son leaving his tools all over the driveway when he worked on his car. So one day she picked them all up and made him pay a dollar for each tool he wanted to retrieve. He never left his tools in the driveway again.

Rewards — Rewards are an excellent way to show appreciation to your child for the positive things accomplished. The criteria for receiving rewards must be established before the task is assigned; otherwise, a reward becomes a bribe.

Treats or rewards are not effective unless they are special. Choose rewards that your family doesn't usually receive, or make them special by not doing them except as rewards.

Any special privilege can become an incentive for work. Listen to your children’s desires and incorporate them into your reward system.

Here is a list of rewards that your children might enjoy:

Sleep in sleeping bags

Go for a bike ride with mom or dad

Play a game with mom or dad

Mom will make your bed, do your dishes, or some other daily responsibility

No work tomorrow

Go to the park

Spend an hour with mom or dad

Go out to lunch

Give money for candy

Buy an ice cream cone

Ask a friend to spend the night

Ask a friend to come to dinner

Spend an hour alone

Pick a special TV program to watch

Go shopping alone or with mom

Stay up later than usual

Take the car

Buy a pair of shoes

As skills are learned and habits formed, discontinue extrinsic rewards. Children do not need physical rewards for jobs that have become part of their routine. Transfer these rewards to new skills or habits to be learned.

You will find that children will quit asking for the reward when it is time to make the transfer.

Consequences — Children who forget to do their work, or do their jobs sloppily, can be charged for your services in time or money, or assigned double duty the next day.

Any type of disobedience, carelessness or inconsideration that involves imposition on another's time can be disciplined by a time exchange. For example:

A child makes arrangements to meet you at a specific place, at a specific time. He then decides to go somewhere else without notifying you. You search all over town for the child and an hour later find him at a friend’s.

You assign the child the job of washing the car. This job would have taken you one hour to complete.

The child takes three hours to complete the job.


The child has exchanged the hour you spent looking for him with a job that you could have completed during that time had you not been inconvenienced by his disobedience.

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