I don’t really have a parenting style. I try and be fair and remain calm (although that doesn’t always happen) but most of all I try and be consistent. One thing I have learnt from my years as a teacher is that children need to know what the rules and boundaries are, and for them to stay the same. Quite often, knowing what is expected of them, and receiving praise when those expectations are met, is enough. But sometimes they might need a little bit more encouragement… and that’s where a reward chart can come in.
You can buy lots of reward charts, or download templates online, but when I decided to try using a reward chart with Toby I decided we would make our own. And it’s super easy.
If you want a reward chart to work I think it’s really important that you involve your child in deciding what will be rewarded and what form those rewards will take. Toby is only three and a half so there was quite a bit of input from me, but if your child is older then you can probably let them make a few more of the decisions.
For us, we decided to introduce a reward chart to try and change two specific things. The first one was that Toby has been out of nappies since about November last year. And after a slightly rocky start to the process he has only had a handful of accidents. Until a couple of weeks ago that is when he suddenly started wetting himself almost every day. These weren’t accidents when we were out and he couldn’t get to a toilet in time but rather when we were at home and he was about two metres away from the potty. I was fairly convinced he had just got complacent and was being lazy about going, rather than there being any underlying problem so this was the first thing the reward chart was designed to tackle.
The second issue was that Toby had started waking up in the night and coming through wanting to get in bed with me. He has had a GroClock since he was about two and it has always worked really well. If he woke up early he would either try and get back to sleep or wait until the sun came out before he got up. He had started ignoring the sun though and would just come through whenever he woke up. I think this is partly because Gabe often ends up sleeping with us and so he was feeling left out. So I explained that Gabe is still little and that when he moves out of his cot he will have to stay in his own bed too.
So, we needed some sort of chart that could reward having dry pants all day, and staying in bed until the sun came out on his clock. I wanted it to be big, and somewhere obvious so we would use it every day and it wouldn’t get forgotten about after a few days.
We started with a long piece of paper (we’ve got a roll from IKEA but you could use lining paper or something like that instead) and the idea that the chart would be a race for Toby to get somewhere. I drew a long snake all the way up the paper and split it into numbered spaces. There ended up being 30 spaces, more by chance than anything else. I figured that was about the right number though – if Toby managed to stay in bed, and have dry pants then he would move two spaces a day and it would take him about two weeks to get the to the top.
We also added in the extra incentive that Toby could move another space if he does something especially kind or helpful. So things like if he tidies up without being asked (or at least without complaining!) or shares something with Gabe.
Toby really enjoyed going to the beach when we were on holiday at Bluestone last month so we agreed that his reward for reaching the top of the chart would be a trip to the beach. Two weeks is a long time to wait for a three year old so we added in some more smaller rewards along the way. I let Toby decide what these rewards would be (with a little bit of guidance) so we had Kinder Eggs, a balloon, and a trip to soft play. I put the first couple of rewards quite near the start of the chart so that Toby would see it was worth his while to do the things he was supposed to do, and to get him invested in the process early on.
Toby then got to decorate the chart himself and it was ready to put up. We stuck the chart up on the unit in our hallway, and I laminated a little picture of Toby so he could move himself up the chart.
So the big question though…. does it work?? Well, yes, to a certain extent. It worked really well for the first four or five days. Toby did really well – no wet pants, staying in bed until the sun, and a few extra moves for being kind and helpful too. We did our best to encourage him – we went back making sure he made regular trips to the toilet or potty, and gave him lots of praise when ever he moved a space on the chart.
We have had a few accidents since starting the chart, and the staying in bed in the mornings isn’t really happening at the moment. But Toby made it to the top of the beach chart last week, and we’ve started another one this time with a trip to the Sealife Centre as the end reward.
Even though Toby isn’t managing to move both his spaces every day at the moment I think we’re going to keep up with the chart because it does work as a good visual reminder of what he needs to think about.
Have you used a reward chart with your children? Have you found that it works? I’d love to know if you have any other ideas of how we can make sure Toby stays engaged with his chart.