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Puzzle Reward System

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about Caroline’s bedtime struggles. I wrote about it here as well. There were lots of tears, excuses to stay up, tantrums if she didn’t get what she wanted, and on and on.

Bedtime had become a struggle for us and it was becoming extremely frustrating. Nothing we tried was working (we’d tried so many tactics), and Caroline was getting less and less sleep.

She was overtired, waking in the middle of the night as a result, and quite frankly… crabby the next day. It was quite the viscous cycle we were stuck in.

Caroline responds best to 2 things:

1. Explanations and lots of talking. I know it probably sounds odd to recommend big long talks and discussions with a 2 year old, but Caroline really responds to this. It helps to calm her down in the moment, and she really wants to know our reasoning for things.

2. Positive reinforcement. When we continue our talk all throughout the day, and point out when her behavior is good, she really internalizes this. It helps us all to stay positive and to keep focusing on what we want to have happen, instead of getting stuck talking about negative behaviors. In addition to positive talk and praise, she does well with reward systems.

I have mixed feelings on reward systems, but in general I think they are a positive tool to use when TEACHING a desired behavior, especially at this young age of 2/3 years old.

Reward systems tend to only work for so long with Caroline before she catches on and gets bored with it. I actually appreciate that, however, because it forces me to get creative and not just rely on a reward system to do all of the work.

I firmly believe that reward systems should only be used for short periods of time. They help to weather a storm, and they help to teach desired behaviors. I think they need to be phased out, and that the reward itself needs to be less and less over time.

Eventually we want the desired behavior to happen without the expectation of a reward. And eventually, even a toddler can learn a behavior, and put it into practice simply because it is the expectation, and not because they are going to be getting something out of it.

The huge push for rewards at a young age, has created a bit of an entitled generation (don’t get me started on that discussion) LOL! So, I am very conscious of making ours short lived and used for very specific behaviors with which we are needing a little extra teaching boost so to say.

I was insanely excited to try the idea of a puzzle reward system, when my friend mentioned it.

How it works:

– Every time a desired behavior is shown, give your child a piece of a puzzle and explain why they earned the puzzle piece

Make sure that the pieces go together (I put the whole puzzle together, then labeled the pieces in the order I’d be handing them out to ensure they’d fit together as we went)

The puzzle piece itself acts as an immediate, small reward

– When the puzzle is completed, give a big prize or celebration

How we used the puzzle reward system:

– Our desired behavior was good listening, and controlling her anger (it’s ok to be upset, but not ok to throw a fit)

– We split this into two parts:

1. Doing good listening ALL day
2. Doing good listening at bed time

– Caroline earned a puzzle piece right before bed, if she’d done a good job listening all day long. We, of course, reminded her throughout the day and helped her keep an eye on her behavior for such a long time.

– Caroline earned a puzzle piece first thing in the morning if she’d gone to bed well with good listening, and done well all night.

– These puzzle pieces were not easy to earn since she really had to focus on doing a good job of listening for such long periods of time. When she didn’t earn them, we sat down and explained why.

– She got to the point where we could ask her if she thought she’d earned a puzzle piece. She’d honestly tell us if she didn’t think she’d earned one and we’d talk about why.

– When she’d earned all of the puzzle pieces and completed her puzzle, we had a huge celebration. We’d actually been planning on going to Sesame Place for her birthday. It just so happened that it worked out to be the same weekend she was finishing her puzzle. So we gave the credit to the puzzle and explained to her how proud we were of her recent behaviors. She had no idea what the final celebration or prize would be until she’d finished the puzzle.

– We chose to use a 25 piece puzzle. This size and our expectations worked perfectly for Caroline’s age (almost 3)

– The puzzle piece was exciting to her. She had a great time figuring out who was on the puzzle and having the mystery puzzle revealed over time.

I especially like this system because it gives immediate rewards. The puzzle itself was exciting, so I wasn’t having to find small rewards or treats to keep her interest.

We saw a drastic change in her behaviors while we were using this reward system (and after). I am so glad we gave it a shot!

Other Posts of Interest

Using Sticker Charts

Transitioning Your Focus to Positive Behavior & Natural Consequences

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