Let's talk rewards. Rewards to motivate your #kids ! #motherhood #firstgrade

After experiencing what I can only classify as an exhausting roller coaster of intense emotions in the last three months that had me day dreaming of placing my six year old on the curb with a "Free!" sign around her neck, I decided to reach out to my friends.

And when I say "friends" I mean every single friend I had. Friends with kids the same age, friends without kids, friends that were Teachers, and even those friends who constantly brag about how perfect their children are.

And you know what their response was to my hour-long rant detailing my days that often times consisted of eight tear-filled negotiations before the 8:20am school bell rang?

"My son/daughter is doing the exact same thing, what IS all that about?".

I was relieved at the instant validation and suddenly found myself with an icurable thirst for how they handle their six-ish year olds. I wanted to know how they motivated them to get dressed every morning; how they rewarded them for good behavior; what kinds of punishments they issued for non-compliance; and how they just made it through each day with their voice in tact (from all the screaming I assumed they were doing as well).

After a number of play dates and coffee dates and even some internet research, I came to the conclusion that the age of six is an extremely difficult age. Mostly on the parents. Children are experiencing a gammet of emotions, some brand new, some scary; they feel a desire to spread their wings and make their own decisions; and yet, they still need our guidance and protection and our praise to let them know they are doing a great job.

They are motivated by praise (shocking!), not punishment. Rewards rather than threats will get you results.

And here is where I stop to remind you (myself!) what my momma has always told me; "You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar". And she's right. Again (shocking!).

So, where does all this leave me?

Taking my six year old daughter to a craft store to build her very own reward chart.

I let her choose everything to put on the chart and we worked for an hour over last weekend to make this chart.

16x20 foam board, chip letters, scrapbook even stickers, raffle tickets, velcro dots, and 5x7 pink envelope were all purchased at Michael's on 40% discount plus I got an additional 25% off my entire purchase. This entire project cost me less than $25.00.

Let me back up and explain what led to the information on the chart.

Over Christmas, my sister saw and heard a sampling of Emily's, uh... intense behavior, in particular her defiance to complete simple tasks ("go brush your teeth" was met with "whhhhhhhhyyyy? I want to ___") but more so, she was empathetic to our inability to handle it effectively. Neither David nor I know what we are doing when it comes to six year olds, this is our first battle. We both were going down the path of ask once, get annoyed when asking twice, demand compliance through raised voices and gritted teeth at the third request, to a finale of screaming something that sounded an awful lot like "why do I have to ask you __ times to brush your teeth every single day?!?!?". Most of these exchanges end with us taking away her 30 minutes of free choice wind-down time at bed time, just before we turn her lights off for the night. And then us diving into a glass (or three) of wine, flopping down on the couch in a giant sigh of regret.

Lord. I'm exhausted reliving that.

So, we decided to eliminate all of that with something very simple.

Tally marks.

Like issuing a count in the 1-2-3 Magic book, a tally mark is swift, immediate, and doesn't require any talking from me. I don't engage, I just walk over to the fridge and make a black mark on that day on my calendar.

One black mark is issued for any whining, complaining, defiance, sassy retorts, unkind language, and/or refusals.

Three black marks and she loses a ticket.

A ticket is what she earns when she has exemplary behavior such as completing tasks without even being asked, without a reminder, and without dragging her feet.

Other behaviors that earn her tickets include:
  • helping me with chores without me asking for her help and/or without grumbling
  • assisting her brother with his food, his toys, when he's hurt without us around
  • being extra gracious with her guests, 
  • using polite manners without being reminded,
  • going through her morning routine (get dressed, empty plate in sink, brush teeth, pack backpack, make bed, etc.) all on her own
  • going through her bed time routine (clothes in hamper, clean up room, do homework, bathe, brush teeth, etc.) all on her own
  • kind words, compliments towards others, gracious losing at games
She can earn a maximum of three tickets per day or 21 tickets per week.

Each ticket earns her a daily reward as follows:

Ticket #1 = 10 extra minutes of reading time at bed time, mainly us reading to her
Ticket #2 = 20 minutes of XBOX/Wii game time OR board game of her choice to play with me
Ticket #3 = 30 minutes of TV time

She earns the tickets every day beginning Saturday through Friday. At the end of each day, she sees which reward of time she has earned and pulls all the tickets off the board and places them in the pink envelope. On Friday night, we count the tickets and she chooses one reward from whichever category of tickets she has earned.

For 10 tickets earned she can choose from:
  • Movie rental plus popcorn here at home
  • Baking something with mom
  • Trip to the park
  • A bike ride
  • Doing an art project or a science experiment 
  • A trip to the Vivarium in Berkeley
For 15 tickets earned she can choose from:
  • A trip to the beach
  • Dessert of her choice (walking to Tucker's Ice cream or Feel Good Bakery)
  • Feeding/petting the animals at Tilden Park
  • Family game night of her choice (Monopoly, XBOX, Wii Dance party, Guitar Hero, War, etc.)
For 20 tickets earned she can choose 2 rewards from the 10 ticket category or from:
  • Trip to Oakland Zoo
  • Date night at the Alameda Theater
  • Pizza and games at Chuck E. Cheese
  • Ferry ride to the city to visit The Aquarium 
The three of us came up with all these rewards together, as a family and chose things built around quality family time. For some of these things, David and I will get Nolan and babysitter in order to give her our full attention. 

I kid you not when I say that over the last two weeks her behavior in general, in all aspects of her life (with us, with her brother, at school), has vastly improved. She's less bossy, less sassy, and the whining has almost all but disappeared. There are very clear boundaries for what we will and will not tolerate from her and though we expect a lot, we make it very clear that we don't expect perfection. She has only had a ticket taken away twice and earned more tickets this week (14) than last week (10). She's excited to put her tickets up each day and is even more excited to discuss which reward she's going to choose on Friday night. She's happier and we are happier. And though we do have some push back at times and we have days when we all want to rip our hair out, life is good again.

Thank you to Aunt Jenny, my sister the brilliant Teacher for this idea. She is the brains behind it all and I'm so thankful because it's really genius. Love you, girl!


  1. Thank you for the kind words but really, it was all of us and a little internet research on my part but I am so glad y'all have figured out a system that works for ALL of you! Keep that hair girl :) PS. I LOVE her reward board....it looks professionally made :D


  2. thank you so much. I have a six year old and to be honest it was nice to know I'm not alone. It is the same way in our house. I have been looking for a way to change this rut that we have gotten ourselves into and I think this might be the trick!! I'll send you a photo after we finish our board!!


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