Please Help with a Good Reward System for 4 Year Old

Updated on January 07, 2010
T.W. asks from Canyon Country, CA
9 answers

I'm not the queen of discipline, but we do set a few rules in my house about having good manners, respecting others, sharing, being kind and honest. We seem to be on a good track there. Yet, when it comes to time for bed, time for school, time for bath, time for an appointment, time to go home, etc, we struggle. My daughter really plays a long stretch before getting things done, and the daily routines may be give up or battle. I know the concept of time is a hard one to acquire for a 4 year old, but i'm tired of how long "negotiating" gets with my girl. Yep, she is a negotiator, and a darn good one. Taking away privileges (such as TV, etc) is not working anymore. Any suggestions on a reward system that has worked for you at home to end the daily war? It seems to work in school, she is only like this at home. Mother of a smarty 4 1/2 yr old girl.

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So What Happened?

Thanks Mamas for your wisdom and advice. I tried the timer when she was 3, and she just wanted to play with it, but it might work now that she is older. I set the TV to turn off in 30 min before homework and shower, and before going to school (she has to have breakfast and change during that time). It was a good start. I'm getting the books suggested, and I am going to keep the conversation about responsibilities straight. As for a reward system, I like your ideas. Rewarding always worked better with her than taking things away. So thank you for taking the time to share your experiences, and I'll come back to let you know what worked.

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answers from Los Angeles on

You've gotten a lot of opinions, so all I can tell you is what we have used on the kids. They are now 5 and 7. A few years ago we started a point system (kind of like the other mom's ticket system), but we gave points for things that they did well (like share, or help clean up), randomly, not constantly and they did not notice. Then when they got 10 points, they got a present (something from the dollar store was sufficient then). Then after they learned to appreciate the points, we would use them as a punishment (i.e. if you do not do as you are asked you will lose a point). That would really upset them and they would listen. Now that they are older, we give the points even less, and sometimes if they ask if they will get a point for something good that they did, I explain (if I am going to say no) that they have learned what they are supposed to do in life, so they will not get a point. They do not complain.

Also, with getting them to do things that I want them to do, like bed time, or bath, you have to give the kids warnings, like 10 and then 5 minute warnings so they know what is coming and get their acknowledgement of the activity, so you know you are all on the same wave length.

Good luck

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answers from Honolulu on

My girl is that way too and can debate like an adult Attorney... but she will comply.
We talk to her in the way that works for her... she is "smart" and is not fooled by "rewards" or taking away of things either. For me, I don't like having to "reward" every behavior with something... otherwise then the child "expects" that each time.... and then you won't be able to get them to do anything without a "treat."

So we talk to our daughterr honestly and without frills. We tell her what we expect, we don't "rush" her, and we tell her things WAY ahead of time... telling her by when we need to go and get ready. But we are not "mean" about it or dictatorial. Then she is fine with that. She is not one who likes "BS" kiddie reasons.

ALSO, we don't wait until the last minute to "prep" for things before leaving the house. We tell her the day before even, what is expected the next day, and then 'map out' the routine. So she knows BEFOREhand.

ALSO, a regular "routine" works for my girl... she goes to bed without struggle and takes a bath etc., as is expected everyday. BUT... we also forewarn her ahead of time... giving her wind-down time before hand. If we "rush" her suddenly, it does NOT work. And we always say things like "after you finish that playing in 5 minutes... time to eat" or time to bathe, or time to get ready for bed etc. And she does... because it is a DAILY REGULAR routine.

Its all about "transitioning" a child to what is "next"... and then giving them time to transition. ie: a wind-down time or a prep time. Each with its own "timing." Some kids and adults for that matter... just need more time to get ready or to switch gears. Some don't.

Or put on an egg-timer.

The book "How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk" is a good one. You can get it from

Also, get her input, and discuss your expectations WITH her... my girl, likes to feel a PART of the "process" not just at the receiving end of us giving her "orders."
We also stress that she is PART of the family.... and we all have our "duties" etc. For example I will say: "After Mommy does the dishes, you need to take a bath. Then we can ALL relax..." Then she will 'help' and engage in finishing up her playing or project, then know its "time" to take a bath. AND we ask her to take a part in it all. Over time... it will become a regular part of a 'routine' and she will know what to do and "why." Which for my girl, the "why" is important. AND, perhaps give your girl something to do too... as part of the family... like help wiping the table etc. (**Adding this: the point being, not how "perfect" they do it, but that they are trying their "best" and are taking a part in "family" duties too- which keep it age-appropriate and "fun", then praise them for it).

Luckily in school, my girl is super diligent and does not dawdle around. :)

Good luck,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

in my experience with two very different children reward system has not worked. at some point incentives become more bothersome than what they are offered for.
Good Luck - hope you find your perfect solution!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a good reward system for kids. Rewards are great for training dogs and are also effective for training kids in the short term. However, as you have come to see, there comes a time when they are no longer effective. Here's why.

Punishments demand compliance. Kids comply with your expectations out of fear of punishment (or in order to earn that special reward). What appears to be polite, respectful behavior is really just self-defense. Essentially, it teaches kids to be even more selfish because their behavior is dictated by what is in their best interest. Raising truly compassionate, independent, responsible kids does not result from a reward system.

There seems to be this fear that if we do not tell our kids how to behave at all times, they will become selfish, disrespectful, dependent beings who won't want to do anything productive with their lives. If left to their own devices, they will stay up all night, eat nothing but refined sugars, and lack compassion for the world around them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If I can be of any further help, feel free to contact me.
Be well,
G. B., M.A.
Child Development Specialist & Parent Educator

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Reno on

My mother-in-law taught me about "goody tickets." Instead of taking privileges or special things away, children need to EARN them by doing the right thing. If you "catch" your daughter doing the right thing in the morning (or whenever), she gets a good ticket. Five goody tickets equals 30 minutes of television; 10 goody tickets equals a special something the next time you're shopping; 20 goody tickets equals a sleepover. If she hasn't earned the goody tickets, no privilege.

We did this with my eldest son when he started kindergarten and it worked beautifully. He dressed himself, he helped with breakfast, ANYTHING to earn those tickets so he could do the fun things he wanted to do. After about 6 months, the habits were formed and we slowly let them disappear.

The other thing that might help is the book "Parenting with Love and Logic." It has a great philosophy, one that I use in my home and in my high school classroom, with great success. I would even go to so far to say it was revolutionary. I now smile my way through the disciplinary issues that fill my life.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

My son is the same way. One thing I'm planning on implementing is a visual schedule of set routines. They use this in his preschool program. So, for example, the bedtime routine would be:

1. Clean up toys
2. Bathtime
3. Brush teeth
4. Put on PJs
5. Read 3 books
6. Kisses
7. In bed/Songs

Each step would have simple pictures to accompany them, and each time we complete a step, we pull that step off the chart and go on to the next one. Apparently, they've found it to be very helpful for my son in particular in his class.

Good luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

My response isn't about a reward system but about something S H mentioned in her response. The problem with my two-year-old is that he doesn't want to stop whatever it is he's doing to move on to the next; be it a diaper change, dinner time, bed time, or even going to the park (something he LIKES to do). So I spent less than $5 at Target and got an egg timer. I tell him it's almost time to do "x" and that he has five minutes to wrap up whatever it is he's doing. When the bell goes off, time is up and we're going to do "x". It has worked like a charm from day one. Now he even asks for me to set the timer. "It's dinner time." "Set timer?" "Okay, you have five minutes." Sometimes when the bell goes off, he'll put up his little hand and ask, "Five more minutes?" But I tell him that he HAD his five minutes and he doesn't fuss at all. Hope this helps.



answers from San Diego on

Hello, I don't know if this is something that will work, but with my grandsons, I always would tell them, "In five minutes, we will be leaving the playground." (or whatever the occasion was). Then, I would tell them, "4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute". This always prepared them for the end of time they were allowed to do whatever they were doing. Now that they are older I can tell them "20 minutes, 15, 10 and 5. They are ready to go, or clean up or do whatever they need to do. It also gets them to realize time.
Good luck with your precious little girl.
K. K.



answers from Honolulu on

I would always say " I'm setting the buzzer for 5 minutes. When the buzzer beeps, you are going to wash your hands and sit down for dinner". Set a kitchen timer, your cell phone alarm, whatever. Then when the buzzer beeps " OK the buzzer says time's up, let's go" After a few times, she will learn what 5 minutes feels like, and it will get better. The first few times, there will be massive tantrums or whatever is usual for her to deal with a transition, but she will get it. I used the buzzer for everything - playground time, Time to get in the car, time for playdate to be over, etc. It seems like the buzzer becomes the authority figure, and you can't negotiate with the buzzer, so that is that.

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