A Chuck E. Cheese press release reminded me of an age-old parenting debate: is it good to use rewards to motivate child behaviors? Or is it a flawed strategy to give external rewards for things children should be doing anyway? (Brushing teeth, cleaning room, etc.)

My one attempt at a reward system was a failure. My son was 5, and he loved the show "Deal or No Deal." So the creative dad in me created a Deal or No Deal board with dollar amounts covered by numbered briefcases. Each day my son performed a desired behavior, I allowed him to pick a number off the board. And each day, he got closer to a prize for all of that good behavior.

(If you haven't watched the game show on TV, you basically keep picking briefcases until you either receive the money in the last one left or take some bargain along the way.) The flaws in my plan seem so obvious now. Eventually, my son picked the briefcase with the largest dollar amount -- and suddenly the amount he really wanted to win was gone. In a flash, he lost all interest in my "creative" reward system. Oh, and he was sad and angry at me too! Great job dad ...

That isn't to say that reward systems are bad. My approach was too complicated. Something simpler, like Chuck E. Cheese's reward calendars for game tokens, might be more effective. But I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you tried reward systems or calendars with your kids? Why or why not? And did they work? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidance on positive reinforcement through rewards. A lot of web sites promote the use of poker chips. Most encourage positive systems that provide chips for good behavior, but I've seen a couple that also suggest taking away chips for bad behavior as well.


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The flip side of reward systems for kids.