Reinforcing Emotional Bonds
Ideally, you want to use rewards as a bonding experience. You can bond over your child's growth and progress, over her excitement about the rewards, and over an increased awareness of what she likes and what motivates her — all key to helping her take the million baby steps on the way to a thriving adulthood.
Rewards That Create Bonds
One-on-one time with a parent, especially for young children, can be a huge reward. If your child's behavior has become so disruptive that you haven't spent any time together except to try to correct behavior, she could probably use some positive time with you.
Using a point system with options for different rewards like “Read a book with Mom in the middle of the day,” or “Go on a picnic with Dad” can strengthen your bonds and give your child the ability to squeeze in some extra “five-minute freezes” that you otherwise wouldn't make time for.
Bonds come not just from the warm and fuzzy activities — which are a good place to start — but from the trust that another person will be there for you, and that you can count on her to be fair, honest, and by your side through thick and thin.
Rewards That Foster Independence
Conversely, your child needs the opportunity to establish her own identity, one that's separate from you and your family. The older a child, the more important this becomes, and your expression of love is one of gracefully allowing the bird space to flap its wings. At the same time, you don't just let the bird leave for good on its first venture out of the nest.
Rewards that foster independence are extremely effective with older children. Extended phone privileges and curfews work well to motivate compliance with rules, as do privileges to join extracurricular activities, or time to pursue outside interests and hobbies. It may be painful to watch your child grow without you there in person, but your child needs you to be her parent, not her friend, and not necessarily her companion for life. If you are steady in your support, you'll give your child the courage to move forward and the protection to fall back on you when she makes mistakes.