How to Discipline With Rewards & Consequences

Consequences are a part of the human experience. Both negative and positive consequences result from every choice a child makes. The Association for Positive Behavioral Support points out that, while rewards and consequences are often considered opposites, rewards are nothing more than the positive consequences of behavior 1. While it is necessary to protect children from danger, parents don’t do children any favors by protecting children from all negative consequences of behavior. By the same token, rewarding children too often teaches them to work primarily for rewards.


Praise the child for what he does well. Pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears encourages parents to use praise that is specific and sincere. For example, rather than simply saying “good job” when your son takes out the trash say: “I really appreciate it when you take out the trash. I know that you do a good job and always close the trash bin.”

Choose the specific behaviors you wish to reinforce. This may be asking a young child to pick up her toys or helping an older child complete homework before playing. Set goals for this behavior.

Make a chart that includes tasks for everyone in the family. Using a ruler, draw a table on poster board. Head each column with a date. On the right side of the table, write the names of family members and the tasks or behaviors you wish to change. Feel free to include parents in this chart. Mom may be working on setting aside time to read or go to the gym. It shows children that everyone works on changing for the better.

Place a sticker in the appropriate place on the chart everytime someone in the family completes a task.

Set goals for each person. Use age and the behavior as your guide. For example, a preschool child who remembers to brush her teeth for a week might earn an hour at the park with Mom. A teen who does her homework everyday without complaint probably wouldn’t enjoy the same trip to the park. Instead, she might earn a pedicure with Mom. Make sure that the rewards focus on time rather than money or gifts. Never use food as a reward.

When everyone has earned a reward, create a family celebration such as a day at the zoo or a special family vacation.


Look at the behavior you wish to change.

Choose either natural or logical consequences. Natural consequences are the expected results of an action. For example, the child who doesn’t put her clothes in the hamper will eventually run out of clean clothes. Logical consequences are those chosen by parents or teachers when natural consequences are not safe or too long term to teach the lesson. For example, by the time a child gets her report card, she may have completely forgotten all the days she neglected to study or do her homework. Parents use logical consequence of restricting television time every day the child neglects to work.

Apply natural consequences whenever possible. For example rather than order the child to clean up his room, leave it be. When the child comes to you crying because he has stepped on a toy, broken the object and hurt the toy, sympathize with him. Remind the child that toys that are put in their place don’t get stepped on.

Use logical consequences when necessary. For example, no parent can allow a child to learn the natural consequences of running into the street. Instead, let the child know that if she goes in the street, she will lose the rest of her outside playtime for the day. While she is inside, watching friends still playing, remind her that if she were hit by a car, not only would she miss one day, but many days of play.


Use a "compliment jar" to encourage good behavior. Decorate a clear plastic jar and give the child a rock or small token to place in the jar whenever she does something good. When the jar is full, she earns special time with Mom or Dad.


If the child engages in behavior that puts himself or others in danger, consult your pediatrician immediately.