Yes, I used to be one of those parents who believed children should not be given external rewards very often. If you give external rewards, they become performing monkeys, and they stop doing things for their intrinsic value. And honestly, that worked out pretty well for two of my kids.
Then I had Tbear. ADHD plus other struggles. Turns out, “ADHD disrupts a person’s ability to manage their own behavior and act with future consequences in mind…If a task in itself provides motivation (such as video games, comic books, or TV) they have little or no problem sticking with it — but that’s because the activity contains its own rewards. Give these kids a task where there is no external reinforcement or payoff, and their persistence falls apart.” (https://www.additudemag.com/motivating-adhd-kids-rewards-consequences/)
They need external rewards.
And, to a certain extent, we ALL need external rewards to persist in tasks that aren’t inherently rewarding. How many times have I sat down with myself before a really boring task and said, “ok, get this done in an hour and then you can go get some fancy coffee”?
But obviously, you can’t bust out a cookie or trinket every time your kid does something, right?
We’ve found using a home currency is PERFECT for our ADHD kiddo, and the other kids don’t mind it, either. Our home currency is those store-bought pompoms. We call them Fuzzies. But you could use poker chips. Plastic discs. Actual tokens. Honestly whatever you have on hand.
Each kid gets a jar. I decorated their jars with vinyl designs, but before I had a vinyl cutter, I just used Sharpie. Tbear is both the youngest and the most challenged – his jar is actually a bit smaller than the others, so he can fill it up faster.
Then we decide what earns fuzzies. We choose a few specific tasks that each child needs to work on – doing those things earns fuzzies. They earn fuzzies when they do the thing. What are some tasks? Currently, my older kids earn fuzzies when they go out of their way to be helpful to someone else in the family. When one of them was over-reacting to everything by screaming, we added “handles being upset without screaming” to the list. Tbear earns fuzzies for doing what we ask him to without arguing, and for cleaning up after himself without being told. For any new task, or any task the child is still struggling with, there is ONLY reward. ONLY earning fuzzies. We are clear with everyone involved what earns fuzzies. We keep a written chart on our fridge, so that nobody forgets (especially mom).
Once the child is succeeding at EARNING fuzzies with a task, then we (sometimes) add losing fuzzies for failing to do the task. If we ask Tbear to do something and he refuses, he loses a fuzzy, for example. Again, we’re very clear with everyone about how they could lose fuzzies. These things are ALSO written on our fridge list.
But what’s the point of the fuzzies? If you’re lucky, your child finds earning the fuzzy to be reward enough. Tbear went YEARS of just accepting that the fuzzy WAS the reward, and he LOVED earning them. It was kind of awesome.
Then he got wise.
Our rewards system is, like the earning system, divided by age group. The older kids have a more complex system. X number of fuzzies can be turned in for getting to take a walk up to the store and spend their own money on a small treat, for example. Or X number can be turned in for some free downloadable content on a game. Or they can choose to turn in a whole jar for ice cream from DQ, fancy coffee, a small toy or treat (in the $3-5 range), or $3 towards a future larger reward.
Tbear can only turn in full jars, and he always wants toys. I actually shop for the things I know he wants on eBay and try to keep a few on hand. He’s also matured to the point that if he finds something he wants while we’re out shopping, I can actually buy it right then, but put it in the closet until he earns it with fuzzies. Delayed gratification. So he’s working on skills WHILE working on other skills. We also occasionally get slightly more expensive toys (like $8-10) and he has to have TWO jars to earn that. This is REALLY hard for him, but I think it’s a good thing for him to work on.
And, you guessed it, the rewards are ALSO written on our refrigerator list. I personally think writing things down is really important. Everyone thinks they’ll remember, but then you get a month or so down the road, and one of the kids says, “don’t I earn fuzzies for x?” and then it’s CHAOS. Avoid that. Write it all down.