Preface: The method discussed in this article may not be necessary for all children. These are suggestions to help with a child who has difficulty following rules/expectations at home. And…this is one strategy. As you know, many strategies work together to lead to positive changes in behavior. At the end of this article, you will find suggestions for more articles to read with helpful strategies. (If you are looking for privilege ideas for the classroom, check out the article, 18 Break/Privilege Ideas to Increase Student Motivation and Participation).
If you have read my other behavior articles, you know I am a big fan of letting kids earn privileges for following rules and expectations, rather than taking their privileges away for not doing what is expected. Research shows that children are much more likely do what is expected when they have the power to earn something, than when being threatened that you will take something from them. Want to read more about this research? Check out the following research studies: Computational Development of Reinforcement Learning during Adolescence and a Summary of the Effects of Reward Contingencies on Interest and Performance.
Obviously, we do not reward our children for everything they do, but at the same time, we can teach them that they need to complete something before moving on to something else. As a perfect example, my son enjoys playing the drums, but he also enjoys coloring. Sometimes he asks for crayons and I see his drum sticks on the floor. I tell him that “first” he needs to put away his sticks, and “then” I will give him crayons. This strategy has been much more successful than using the reverse type of language “if you don’t put your sticks away, you are not getting any crayons!”
Some children do well with a schedule in which they complete one non-preferred activity (e.g., homework) and then get a preferred activity such as TV time. Others need tasks like homework or cleaning their room chunked into manageable steps with some “fun breaks/privileges” in between work time. It really depends on the child and how much they can handle at once, but the overall concept teaches them how to prioritize and make undesirable tasks feel manageable. It also cuts down on resistance.
In this article you will find 25 privilege ideas, as well as suggestions for how and when to let your child earn them.
Many of the ideas below are more appropriate for preschool to elementary school children, but some can be used for older children as well.
1. Watch a favorite show.
2. Wear a sticker of their choice on their shirt or hand.
3. Pick a game for the family to play.
4. Pick an activity for the family to do (e.g., arts and crafts activity, playing a sport outdoors, picking a movie to watch or go see).
5. Help mom or dad cook dinner or bake something.
6. Spend time on the computer, tablet, etc.
7. Do a special arts and crafts activity such as making sock or paper bag puppets or making paper plate masks (you can staple on rubber bands if your child will be safe with the staples or glue on a Popsicle stick for a handle for the mask).
8. Use sidewalk chalk.
9. Blow bubbles
10. Go to the airport to watch planes take off.
11. Got to the Store for a Snack/Drink
12. Pick the family meal for one night during the week (It has to be a reasonable and appropriate request. For example, it should not be something like candy or ice cream. It also shouldn’t be something very expensive or too hard for you to make-unless you want it to be).
13. Perform for the family (good for kids who like to act, sing, dance, tell jokes, etc).
14. Spend time with a friend or have a sleep over.
15. Take a scenic car ride, bus ride, or train ride.
16. Play video games.
17. Go to the pet store to see the animals.
18. Get toenails and fingernails polished by family member
19. Listen to music of choice in bedroom or on headphones (should be age appropriate).
20. Put a model together (such as a model car).
21. Go to the park.
22. Feed the Family Pet.
23. Take pictures.
24. Talk on the phone or text with a friend or family member.
25. Stay up 30 minutes past bed time on the weekend.
These are just some ideas for privileges a child can earn. You may think of more. You can give your child a choice of two or three privileges to choose from. Try to pick things that would interest or motivate your child.
Here are some examples of when to allow a child to earn one of the privileges listed in this article:
- After completing one thing (e.g., homework, a chore, etc.).
- After successful completion of more than one thing in a row (e.g., complete homework, clean up plates after dinner, put on pajamas, brush teeth). See How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior for more on this concept.
- After following rules for a specified period of time, such as an hour, a day, or a week (e.g., using kind words, keeping hands to self, etc.).
- At the end of a successful week (for example, if your child completes his homework every night, he can earn a desired privilege on the weekend).
- After having a successful day or week in school (e.g., no negative phone calls or notes from the teacher or principal).
Maybe you can think of some other times when you may want your child to earn privileges for following rules and expectations. Feel free to use these in a way that works for you, your child, and your family.
Remember to always stick with the earning concept. For example, if your child says “I’m not helping with the dishes” and goes to turn the TV on, remind him of what he is working towards in a calm but confident tone (e.g., “You need to complete the dishes first and then you can watch TV”) rather than threatening him (e.g., if you don’t do the dishes, you are not watching TV). When you threaten to take away privileges, children often become defensive and challenge you (e.g., “Take the TV away, I don’t care!”), and often end up not doing what you want.
Keep in mind, that your child’s behavior may not improve right away, especially if what you are doing is a new concept to him/her. You also may have to try different scenarios to see which works best for your child.
For children who may have trouble understanding language (such as those with autism or a speech/language delay or impairment), showing a picture of the activity you want them to complete first, and then the activity they will earn, can be helpful. This is called a first/then board. See an example below:
For more ideas on this concept, such as how to make a first/then board, and how to create written and visual schedules (which you may want to use if you want to have your child complete a few things before earning a privilege) see my article, How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior. You can also check out IPAD/iPhone apps such as Choiceworks and First Then Visual Schedule HD, which allow you to create visual schedules and first/then boards right on your tablet or phone.
For children who may have trouble moving on from a fun activity, let them know how long they can engage in the activity and give them reminders when the time is almost up (e.g., “You can watch TV for 30 minutes.” “In five minutes, you have to turn off the TV and get in your pajamas.“).
Some children benefit from having a timer set, to let them know how much time they have to do the fun activity. For more on this concept, see our article, 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion.
For more behavior strategies check out:
10 Simple Ways to Improve Children’s Behavior (Home and School)
How to Motivate Your Students and Get Them to Listen to You (great for parents too)
17 Ways to Get Your Kids to Listen To You and Show You Respect
How to Prevent and Handle Temper Tantrums
14 Strategies to Help Children with ADHD in the Classroom or at Home (great strategies for kids with and without ADHD)
15 Behavior Strategies for Children with Autism (great strategies for kids with and without autism)
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Comment below with your own fun privileges that you let your child earn for good behavior!
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, educators, and counselors to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them.