One of the most important tools parents have to shape their kids’ behavior is the power of positive feedback. But as any parent knows, it takes some creativity to praise children in a sincere, consistent, meaningful way. So how do you go about it? We went straight to the source: Ten parents share the creative ways they let their children know that they’re proud of them.
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We have a roll of those old-school carnival tickets, and when the kids do something good, they get one of the tickets. At the end of the week, they can trade their tickets for a little prize. They love them so much; you’d think they got them from an actual carnival!
— Kara, Denver, Colorado
My eight-year-old says “Are you gonna Facebook that?” every time I tell him he did something awesome. He’s onto me!
— Michelle, Kansas City, Missouri
We give our daughter puff balls for good behavior. It works like a sticker chart—when she earns enough, she gets an ice cream trip or a movie. The puff balls also make a fun craft when she’s collected enough, so that gives her even more reason to collect more!
— Jen, Leawood, Kansas
When we were potty-training our son, we would use a dry-erase pen to draw a star on the mirror of his bathroom every time he used the potty. Once he got enough stars, he’d be able to pick out a new toy at the store. One newly earned toy later…we had guests over for dinner, and being eager to show off his reward, he looked at our guests proudly, held it up and announced, “I pooped for this!”
— Nate, Boulder, Colorado
We try to recognize our children through both the sincerity and timing of our words—by saying something immediately after the good deed occurs and then again at bedtime so it’s the last thing they hear for the day.
— Gerardo, Olathe, Kansas
Luckily, my daughter is still young enough that she doesn’t really understand the concept of rewards. If she does something without being asked, she still beams with pride, so I take advantage of that! For instance, the other week, she cleaned her art area and told me all about it afterward. I tried to encourage her sense of pride by talking about how easy it will be now to use her art supplies and how big she is. It seemed to work—she looked very proud of herself.
— Edie, Portland, Oregon
My six-year-old doesn’t get to watch a lot of TV, so it’s a real treat for him. If I’m really proud of his behavior—particularly if he’s nice to his brother and sisters without being told—we’ll have a movie night. He gets to pick the movie, and everyone gets to have popcorn and ice cream while we watch. It’s his favorite reward!
— Andrea, The Woodlands, Texas
I try to reward my son with time spent together rather than with gifts. One time, after a particularly good week of behavior, I surprised my son by taking him to get a pedicure with me. He loved all the pampering, not to mention sitting in a big fancy chair right next to me.
— Jennifer, Shawnee, Kansas
We have a big family, so we like to use a point system to be sure we’re reinforcing good behavior. I have a laminated chart that lists all the jobs to be done. You get points only when you go above and beyond. When the kids get five points, they plan one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. It might mean going to Dad’s office on a Saturday, going to the carwash or just walking to the park. It rewards them and gives them the special attention not always easy to come by in a big family.
— Jennifer, Manchester, Missouri
I’ve done every chart or points system known to parents. They work fine at first, but they don’t seem to be a good way to encourage a sustainable behavior. So, I dropped all of that, and now I just expect my kids to do all those dumb chores, get good grades and be kind to others. (I know, I know, mean mom!) Their reward is a simple “thank you” from me. I think now my kids do more around the house because they aren’t always worried about points or checking a list somewhere.
— Laurie, Minneapolis, Minnesota