Motivating desired behavior in your child may not be a cinch, but having a method is the first place to begin. You can motivate your child with consistent structure and personalized, age-appropriate motivation that is tailored to their needs. Whether it’s homework, chores, or daily self-care, children may get distracted, discouraged, or refuse to finish tasks without a system to assist them.
BCBA, Xylene Contaoi, of Xcite Steps, outlines three tried and true systems for motivation:
A visual schedule shows a child what their day will consist of, when to expect which tasks, and what the expectations are. Without knowing what to expect, kids can lose focus or get discouraged. Tailor the schedule to their age and ability: for older kids or adolescents, the schedule can be a simple list with times (or they can create their own!). For youngers and/or children who cannot read, create a board with pictures that represents each task. Post the schedule within the child’s view in their workspace.
Check out visual schedule examples here.
Getting enough sensory breaks is crucial for kids! Consistently leaving one’s space and getting some exercise can avoid meltdowns and/or task refusal. Let your child decide what type of break they would like to work for: dancing, hugs and squeezes, bouncing on a medicine ball, or even running/walking laps around the house or block. The most important thing is that your child finds it motivating.
Setting boundaries for breaks may be necessary if your child struggles with transitions, or bringing their energy back to “work time”. Establish boundaries before beginning (e.g. five laps, two songs, no throwing or screaming indoors, etc.). Setting a visual timer is a good way to help children keep time limits in mind.
Need some ideas? Here are 100 sensory break options for kids.
Some children work fine with a visual schedule. Others may need extra motivation, such as a token board, to complete their tasks. Token boards work by showing a child what they need to earn in order to receive a reward or a break. A token board consists of tokens a child earns for completing tasks or giving responses.
For younger kiddos who need a lot of reinforcement, a five-token board is a good place to start. When to give a token is up to the discretion of the facilitator, depending on the child’s abilities. Tokens can be given more liberally on days they need extra motivation, or more sparingly on days when a child works more independently.
Tailor the board to the child’s interests! It can be as simple or fancy as a child likes, but created in such a way that has a positive association for the child. Read more about implementing token boards here. And, check out these pre-made token boards!
These motivation systems are as dynamic as the children they serve. They can and should be created and modified according to the child’s needs. The possibilities are endless!
If you’re still not seeing the results you want, reach out for help. San Diego’s Xcite Steps Behavior and Therapy Center specializes in ABA and family therapy. Xcite’s BCBAs are trained professionals passionate about giving your child the program that works best for them.
Watch Xylene’s full interview here.