A huge tool in your Special Needs Parenting toolbox is incentives. But one question I get a lot is, what exactly are incentives? It’s pretty fuzzy for many parents. Unfortunately many moms and dads think they are synonymous with bribes or rewards, which they aren’t at all. When done correctly incentives can be a lifesaving technique that will help get your child compliant – leading to more peace and harmony in the home and at school. 

So what exactly are incentives?

It’s the difference between this:

“Charlie, if you do your homework, you can play outside for an extra 15 minutes”

And this:

“Charlie, now is homework time. If you choose to do your homework in an efficient and cooperative way, then you can earn extra time for playing tonight. But you need to do homework regardless.  I hope you choose to earn the play time, but I just want to let you know now that if you don’t then I won’t be able to let you play outside tomorrow morning either.”

See? There is no choice given to the child about whether the task will be done or not. It WILL be done, and if it isn’t, there will be a consequence (more on consequences later). However, cooperative behavior will be rewarded.

I find that this type of incentivizing keeps the control with the parent, but still motivates the child to do the task he needs to do. And it works beautifully for kids on the spectrum or with ADHD, as it is very clear and structured.

Another question I get a lot from parents is how to incentivize without the use of food or electronics. While both those things can be an incentive from time to time, most  experts agree that rewarding with food or excessive use of electronic devices can lead to obesity and other health problems.

Here are some other ideas to consider:

  • A later bedtime for a night
  • A special outing with a parent
  • A few dollars to spend at a dollar store
  • A special craft project
  • New hairdo or “makeover” for a girl
  • Picking what will be for dinner one night
  • Having a tea party or picnic outside
  • A special certificate detailing what the child has done on the wall
  • Allow child to choose activity or family outing on a Sunday or other day off
  • A sleepover with a friend
  • Go to a sports game or anything else of special interest to the child
  • Camp out in the backyard
  • Have a prize box with small prizes that the child can choose from

Obviously these will not all work for one child. The point is to figure out what your specific kid enjoys doing, and what motivates him/her. Most kids will be happy to have a special treat to eat, or extra time on an electronic device. But with some extra thought about your child’s personality and interest – and some creativity – you can come up with a host of super cool incentives that your kids will love!