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This is, by far, the easiest and most effective reward system for kids that I have done. I’ve shared this before but had to do so again because it is a reward system that works so well!
As an elementary teacher, I tried so many classroom reward systems to encourage good behavior and lesson negative behavior, but this is the one that works. (Here are 5 reward charts that I’ve tried.) It works so well for behavior management by rewarding students through positive reinforcement.
Easy and Effective Reward System for Kids
I love how this rewards the children for specific behaviors as the children are rewarded individually. I have always wanted intrinsic motivation to be the reason that our children work hard, and this reward system is a way to highlight their positive behavior.
It goes beyond things like ‘rewarding them for completing age-appropriate chores’ and instead encourages the children to work at being kind, generous, grateful and helpful.
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I’ve tried many systems for rewards for kids. This is the best one. We’ve been doing this for more than 10 years.
The BEST Reward System for Kids
I had marbles, stickers, charts…and then I tried cotton balls in our own home! This worked great and I have used this in our own home for many years.
We have four kids and this works with ALL of them. Even their friends try to earn cotton balls to take home – haha!
What is the goal of the reward system?
The goal is simple: Fill your jar with cotton balls. They get a cotton ball for doing something nice or saying something kind, without prompting. The child earns cotton balls for doing kind things. Easy enough, right?
What is the reward for filling their jar?
It is their choice (within reason). They can pick to do something fun, go somewhere with us, stay up a little late… it’s up to them! They have their choice of DOING something fun.
Note: We do not spend a lot of money on rewards. See some examples below.
While there are so many types of rewards, we have decided not to use toys or money as a reward. I want it to be something special with “someone” (quality time) instead of with “something.” I’ve shared a list of non-toy rewards here, but I wanted to give you a few more examples to get give you some ideas to get started:
- Bike Riding
- Sleepover in mom/dad’s room with sleeping bags on our floor
- Have a cousin sleepover
- Pizza & movie night. (I do not encourage screen time as a reward, but sometimes we will rent a new movie and make a night of it.)
- Go out for ice cream
- Go swimming
- Stay up a little later one night to play a game
- Go to a movie
- Stay up late and play a board game
- SEE MORE NON-TOY REWARDS HERE.
How do I set up the reward jar?
Each of our kids has a jar with their first initial on it… You can see how to make them here.
- Each jar has a rubber band on it. The rubber band serves the purpose of a “fill line”.
- Our oldest children have rubber bands higher on the jar because they are older & they need to get more cotton balls.
- As they get older (each year), the rubber band moves higher up as with their increased age comes higher expectations. This happens until they’re around six years old when I remove the rubber band and they simply have to fill the jar.
- OPTION: you could use chalkboard paint on your jar & draw on the fill line with chalk so that it is easily moveable as they get older.
How do they earn a reward (cotton ball)?
They earn one by doing something nice and unexpected. For example…
- If one child spills something and the other helps to clean it up (without being asked!)
- If I need something from downstairs and they go to get it for me (without being asked!)
- If I catch them doing something or SAYING something kind to each other or to someone else.
- If they help a sibling without being asked.
This reward system is easy and effective. It has not let me down yet.
When they are towards the end (with about 5 cotton balls to go), they will be REALLY trying hard to receive rewards (cotton balls)! As an example, two of our kids had less than two cotton balls to go in their jars before they were filled and they were doing everything to earn them:
- Cleaning their room and then cleaning their sibling’s room.
- Getting their brother and sister’s pajamas ready
- Setting the kitchen table before dinner, before being asked.
- Cleaning up the shoes in the garage.
- Making nice notes and hanging them on each other’s doors.
- Telling each other how great they were (it’s so fun to watch them work towards the “finish line”)
It worked! They went bowling the next day.
What happens after the jar is filled and we’ve done the reward?
When they have earned their reward, I empty the cotton balls from their jars and put them in their ziplock bag and back into the drawer in the kitchen right under where I keep the jars.
Where do we keep the reward jars?
I keep the jars on my counter, next to my refrigerator. It’s not the prettiest placement, but it is pretty much hidden in the corner of the counter closest to the refrigerator, except that the kids can see it every time that they are in the kitchen and they are able to keep track of it.
Can they “Lose” Cotton Balls? Do they get taken out for negative behavior?
- No, not anymore. However, when they were younger, I did take it away on occasion. This was very rare and only when they were being unkind to one another. I also always provided an opportunity to “earn it back” by being extra kind.
- If you start taking them away often, you are going to lose the ‘power’ that this has because it is going to take them too long to get their goal.
Tips to make the reward system a success:
- It takes the kids about two weeks to a month to fill up the cotton ball jar because it is a special thing and is not given for every little thing that they do.
- Although at first, you will want to make it fill up a little quicker so that they are able to get their first reward and understand it. Once they do this, they will see what they are working towards.
- Remind them when that first reward comes “This is because you filled up your cotton balls! I’m so glad that you did because this is so much fun!”
- Sometimes I will use cotton balls as an incentive: “if you ____, you will earn an extra cotton ball today.” (Works great for this, but I don’t do this too often because I don’t want it to lose its real purpose.)
- I do not give them out for doing their normal chores (see age-appropriate chore list here). These cotton balls are special and come when they do something that was NOT asked of them. (see number 6)
- Sometimes they will ask “can I have a cotton ball for that?” I judge that answer based on the situation. For the most part, asking for one doesn’t get you one.
- If your kids need a little incentive for chores, check out our Swap Chores for Screentime Cards
The Main Idea:
- DO SOMETHING NICE–>> GET A COTTON BALL.
- FILL YOUR JAR->> DO SOMETHING SPECIAL WITH SOMEONE SPECIAL (Usually Mom or Dad, or even a sleepover at their grandparent’s house or cousin’s house).
How do I make the reward jars?
This has been my favorite system that we’ve used in our house. I haven’t had to stray from this easy reward system for kids yet and it never fails me. It has been a long term setup in our home and has worked wonders! It sets a focus on the positive things that your children do.
I know it will work for you too!