Immediate rewards for a 5yo that are not candy or cheap plastic crap.
October 16, 2015 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Title says it: Help us identify ways to reward our 5yo for desired behavior that are easy for the parents to follow through on, have immediate payoff, and won't clutter up the floor too badly. We want mostly small rewards, with a few medium-to-large ones mixed in.

Some aspects of daily life are challenging for Micropanda; and we've had a hard time implementing a reward system that works well for him. He doesn't stay motivated by any given reward for very long. A couple of days tops, and then he'll decide that he would just rather not have the reward than do $difficult thing, where $difficult thing has values like "put on pants". I don't think a token economy will work well in this situation.

The developmental pediatrician suggested we set up a reward jar, that has all different kinds of rewards in it, with most of them small but some larger ones, so that the element of surprise will help keep his interest. (Example thing we'd like him to do: follow his morning picture schedule with a reasonable number of reminders instead of eleventy trillion and five.) Also: actually move the fscking squares on the picture schedule because it defeats the purpose if you insist on moving them all at once aaaaaaargh

SO: I need ideas for what-all to put in this jar. (I figure we'll put slips of paper in the actual jar, but you know what I mean.) Where I'm getting stuck is, I'd like to have a decent number of rewards that have some kind of immediate payoff, but are not food and cheap plastic crap. We already have a clutter problem. I'll put some candy and toy slips in there, but I'm trying to think outside the box (jar?) here. Also, I'll put in some things like "trip to the zoo" but we only have room in our schedule for so many trips to the zoo, plus that's a very delayed reward. "5 extra minutes before bedtime" is a good idea, but it requires us to remember to follow through many hours later, and... let's just say that executive function issues seem to be heritable.

Creative parents of Metafilter: With what should we fill our jar?
posted by telepanda to Human Relations (34 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Fill it with state quarters and get him one of those big maps. Does a job, gets rewarded with a quarter for the map.
posted by themanwho at 1:10 PM on October 16, 2015 [10 favorites]

I know there's methods of ping pong balls filling up a jar. The ping pong ball is very visual and can represent what ever you want.

My kid didn't care about candy or toys. But 5 "points" that represented 5 minutes on the iPad was a big deal. Every time he used good manners, etc I got to say"wow! That was awesome! 5 points!". He'd get to add it up for Thusday's game playing.

I think the reward might have to be pretty specific to whatever your kid likes.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:18 PM on October 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Lego mini-figures -while they are cheap plastic crap, he will play with them for years. Self inking stamps - transformer stamps work well around here. A pack of self-stick googly eyes. 3-D stickers.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 1:19 PM on October 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

What about other consumables, like art supplies? Sticker packs, crayons, fun sets of construction paper, straws with bends and twists in them, crazy socks, coloring and activity books, etc.?

Also, money. He's old enough to appreciate the cumulative value of a bunch of dimes and nickels. Plus the occasional dollar coin.

Ooh, also, see if he's interested in collections. Planes, cars, stamps, foreign money, and models of animals all come to mind.
posted by SMPA at 1:20 PM on October 16, 2015 [7 favorites]

A mix of actual and slips of paper- Book vouchers from a real, local store, bubble bath, slip of paper redeemable for a treasure hunt, pack of cards, a replacement X (where X.2 replaces X.1) , slip of paper redeemable for a spooky torch story at bed time, slip of paper redeemable for a song about poo at breakfast, 1 hour of Lego, slip of paper for 1/2 hour of screen time, stickers, erasers, individual coloured pens/pencils, tiny notebooks, matchbox filled with glitter, play date with Friend, blanket fort picnic, pizza and pyjama night...

My kids like power. Power to order their parents to sing a song, tell a story, do a dance and to be involved with it.
posted by taff at 1:20 PM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about small coins? My nephew is 5 and he is all about his piggy bank and I was too at that age (and still have one!) Will he get a dime? A quarter? A bill perhaps? It could be a surprise every time.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:21 PM on October 16, 2015

Crazy hair color if it's early in the day. Rub-on tattoos, naturally. Bubble wrap. The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit taught me that the sound of a bunch of pennies in your pocket can be a powerful motivator, but as a kid I would have rather had folding money.

Having something like that state quarter map or a giant fund raiser style thermometer where he can also see his cumulative success might also be nice. Certain parts of our house are covered in reward stickers for that reason.
posted by mattamatic at 1:22 PM on October 16, 2015

What about vouchers for mini experiences? 30 second dance party, 30 seconds of talking in jibberish to one another, 1 to 3 minutes of YouTube video silliness, etc? Is there anything MicroPanda especially covete or obsesses over? Stuff related to those topics might be good too.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:25 PM on October 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, there are a lot of things that you can buy right now (for the next two weeks, anyway) that could help - non-food trick-or-treat items. Wendy's does vouchers for small Frostys, McDonald's used to do ones for an order of French fries, etc. You can also make your own for stuff like "having desert tonight."
posted by SMPA at 1:27 PM on October 16, 2015

Maybe start a rock collection? You could get a shadowbox for display and as a visual reminder of his rewards.
posted by topophilia at 1:27 PM on October 16, 2015

Starting a rock collection is a great idea.

We've also done matchbook cars.

You could also get a set of magnet tiles and pass those out one at a time.

If you have an iPad, 15 minutes of time to play on it sometimes motivates kids.
posted by Ostara at 1:43 PM on October 16, 2015

I'm with ReluctantViking. You use good events to fill the jar, not let the micropanda take things from the jar.

Perhaps have a large jar and a small jar, and hand out cotton balls or puff balls/pom poms when something good happens. When the small jar is filled it's a good reward, like ice cream or something. Once he learns that the large jar has a bigger reward, like a zoo trip, he'll work on the delayed reward which is a good thing.

You can also vary the size of the puffball based on the task, so large tasks completed successfully accelerate him to the goal.

The idea of handing treats out from a mystery box is a good idea, but I found it was really hard to vary the items and make it creative without resorting to sugar.

(And BTW, Lego Minfigs are not cheap plastic crap. They're hella expensive.)
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:49 PM on October 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

Do a fun kid science experiment! There are loads of examples on the web, but making slime, or rock candy, or mini-volcanos or watching eggs get sucked into a bottle or microwaving Ivory soap is not only educational, but fun and maybe messy (which equals fun when you're 5).
posted by cecic at 1:58 PM on October 16, 2015

A way to remember promised rewards is to put the actual slips of paper in your way: bedtime on the bedroom door or TV, desert on the stove, trip to the park after school on the steering wheel, etc. You can also pin notes on his clothing, like with permission slips for school trips. It works better if the promises are visually striking (neon index cards, written on something he colored with bright markers, etc.)

I was an extremely forgetful child with extremely forgetful parents.
posted by SMPA at 2:02 PM on October 16, 2015

To avoid a derail: this is a baby step in the direction of being able to work towards a larger goal. Right now he will simply conclude that he no longer wants to get ice cream or go to the zoo or whatever. Not if it means doing X.

Lots of great ideas here, thanks!! Keep them coming!
posted by telepanda at 2:03 PM on October 16, 2015

start a lock board and let hin earn new locks to bolt to it.
posted by nadawi at 2:04 PM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Two things I haven't seen that I used to love: those little animal sponges in a pill capsule (you can usually find a bunch at the dollar store) and those just-add-water washcloths that pop up (also at dollar store). Washcloths are useful; I remember playing with the animal sponges in the bath till they fell apart.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:08 PM on October 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Write out the name of an event on a piece of paper ("Go to the zoo!"), then cut up the paper into several pieces, like a puzzle. A single reward is one of the pieces. They need to collect them all to see what the big reward is.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:17 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like the collection ideas because they're less disposable/transitory. So in that vein, marbles to add to a marble collection?
posted by kitcat at 2:23 PM on October 16, 2015

Yes! Animal sponges in capsules and other toys that go from mini to full sized in water are the best! (I'm an adult who has an expandable dino living in my kitchen cabinet).

Vouchers for activities with you - you've gotten great suggestions already. In addition - my mom used to organize things like stair races (yes, racing people up and down stairs, sometimes holding balloons between you if you had a similarly sized racing partner), how many somersaults, cartwheels, etc can you do in a row, crab-walking races. He'll likely win all of these competing against adults, which makes them extra satisfying.

I'll second vouchers for a treasure hunt, money (especially interesting coins/$2 bills/etc), art supplies, stickers, and fun straws (I think there are build-your-own twisty straw sets nowadays if you want to get fancy).

A voucher to make your own "soda" might be fun too (I was a kid who didn't even see soda until I was 8 or 9, so ymmv with this) - either with torani syrup flavors or juice concentrates + seltzer. It's not too much sugar, but is a treat and has a little bit of fun involved in picking flavors, deciding how strong you want it, and then letting it fizz over when you pour in the seltzer too fast.
posted by snaw at 2:30 PM on October 16, 2015

If he has a collector/cataloging mentality (and a lot of kids do) maybe some kind of collection of stickers would be inexpensive and pique his interest.
posted by tracer at 2:45 PM on October 16, 2015

My friend used new underwear and socks (with the kid's favorite characters on them) as potty training rewards. Whether that's an effective reward will depend on the kid, but it's great for the parent because it's something that the kid will eventually need and doesn't add to clutter. A tshirt with a favorite character (or in a favorite color) could be a bigger reward - though of course, not all kids would find that an acceptable reward.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:48 PM on October 16, 2015

Temporary tattoos and stickers (to wear, not to put on a chart)!
posted by missriss89 at 3:14 PM on October 16, 2015

I don't have a specific suggestion, but you could ask the kid what he wants in the jar that would help him be motivated. Mine will often stick with things longer if (he thinks) it's his idea.
posted by pizzazz at 4:34 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

We're doing points (represented as stickers) that he can redeem for toys (admittedly, some are cheap plastic crap, but some aren't, and they have different point values) and experiences. Here's a list for kids this age I found in a parenting book:

* Going to the park
* Having a playdate
* Sleeping in a living room fort
* Playing on the swing set
* Spending the night with relatives
* Playing a game of his choosing with a parent
* Getting a coin-operated ride at the grocery store
* Screen time for x minutes
* Going out for a favorite food (ymmv)
* Playing with playdough
* Playing with paint
* Choosing dinner for the family
* Helping a parent with some grown-up task
* Riding a bicycle or tricycle
* Later bedtime
* Getting a piggyback ride
* Having a bubble bath
* Going outside at night
* Going to the library
* Helping bake cookies or decorate cupcakes
* Having a special dessert
* Watching a movie
* Renting a movie or video game
* Going to a ball game
* Choosing a weekend activity
* Taking time off from chores
* Using a parent's cell phone
* Calling a favorite relative
* Decorating the home for the holidays
posted by woodvine at 4:35 PM on October 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Go to Oriental Trading! Here's the Clearance section; they also do a Super Toys Assortment ($12.99) and a Grab Bag ($19.99) and both have large and small toys. Your dollar store would also have stickers and tiny boxes of crayons, etc?

PS: Oh, there's a whole Assortments section!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:30 PM on October 16, 2015

i love the idea of some small but very immediate activities like an instant 30/60 second dance party. Turn on music loud, set a time, dance like crazy - especially fun if you are willing to put everything on hold and do it immediately. Someone above had a bunch of ideas like that.

Draw on the windows with soap crayons (picture gets to stay up for x amount of time). Draw on the mirror with soap. Play with shaving cream.

He gets to make a decision about dinner - eg. pick everyone's drinks or where we eat (picnic style in an unusual room?) or tell people which chairs to use (assuming he likes being bossy and doesn't freak out if people change places) or maybe gets to sit in the Daddy seat.

A bigger once in a while treat might be getting to fall asleep to sleep in parents bed (again won't work for some kiddos, a real treat for others) or double bedtime stories.
posted by metahawk at 5:35 PM on October 16, 2015

As Christmas gets nearer, you'll be able to find a LOT of advent calendars; you could stock up on a few and use them not-advent-ly. Lego always has a reasonably-priced advent calendar that builds several little models over 25 days. Sometimes you get a whole teeny model in one day; mostly you get like five bricks a day and build the model over three or four days. (The last day is a santa minifig usually I think.)

Of course there are a lot of candy ones, but there are more and more "consumables but not edibles" out there, as well as teeny toys and candy ones.

Art supplies are the biggest one for us because they're consumable and -- yeah -- I can't take the additional crap! We also do matchbox cars and mini lego kits, because he already has lots of each of those so at least it's just adding them to the existing bins of toys. Minecraft has some papercraft kits, which he likes to earn piece by piece. Winter is tougher, but in the spring we sometimes do seed packets and let him plant them in "his" part of the garden. Or, for winter, mini plant kits -- Target gets them for $2 with tiny pots where you just add water and grow yourself some grass or whatever. Sometimes the pot has a happy face so it's like it's growing hair like a chia pet. You can reuse the pots for other teeny plants. Also do try to think of other outdoor art supplies or tools -- sidewalk chalk; a water pistol with food coloring can color the snow; a $4 kiddie rake is fun AND makes them do some chorein'. Those mini birdseed or squirrel feeders that are shaped like bells. (In fact -- a window feeder that brings birds right to your window and he can earn a half-cup of seed at a time, and scoop it out of a bin, might be a good reward. They don't hold a lot of seed and have to be refilled very frequently. Or he can make bird feeders with a bagel smeared with peanut butter and sprinkled with birdseed and tie it on a bit of yarn and hang it outside -- consumables!)

Also if you can convince him to be interested in money, we went to the dollar store and bought a big honkin' pack of play money, and I'd reward him with PLAY dollars, which he could handle and carry around (or tape to a wall chart if he wanted) and when he'd saved enough play dollars for the thing he wanted to buy, I'd exchange them for real dollars at the point we went to the store. My 5-year-old is NOT TRUSTWORTHY WITH CASH. We also just used a mesh pencil cup as his "bank" because it was easy for him to see the cash building up then and he could take it in and out as many times as he wanted without breaking it or driving me crazy taking it apart.

I also always take a look through the clearance section at the drug store and grocery office supplies ... I got a bunch of Elsa post-its for 40 cents. And it turns out my child will do JUST ABOUT ANYTHING to get a stack of post-its and go around sticking them on everything and that all just goes in the recycling. I am buying post-its in bulk now and hoarding them for special treats.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:29 PM on October 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

One of my kid's very favorite things is to play Mommy Mountain--he holds my hands, plants feet until he gets them on my (bent) knees, then we hug and swing around. And I have told him before that mountaineers need to wear pants and shoes. :) Are there any quick immediate things like that, or piggyback ride, that would suit his disposition?
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:35 PM on October 16, 2015

I am about to out myself for being a not very fun parent of a 6 year old...

I have never been a get on the floor and play kind of parent. I just find blocks and legos and all of those kid play things kind of boring. If you happen to be lame like me, a coupon to make a big fort together or make an epic hex bug maze together or any other kind of play Little Murray likes would be a HUGE incentive.

In other words, if you are like me, use your parental inadequacies to your benefit and bribe them with more "fun" parenting style.
posted by murrey at 7:08 PM on October 16, 2015

Glowsticks! (or glow necklaces or bracelets or whatever.) Super fun for a few hours, then you throw them away.

Bath bombs! So fizzy and awesome, and they zoom around the bathtub! And they are gone at the end of the bath unless you make the same mistake as I did and get one with glitter. Glitter BAD and will haunt your bathtub for days. And they are easy to make if that's your bag.

Fun popsicles that are really frozen yogurt with fruit mixed in, or whatever your kid likes in frozen treats. Zoku has some awesome 2 oz molds in the shape of arctic animals and fish and stuff and Preschooler Architeuthis loves to see which one he'll get. And they make very small popsicles, which is a big plus IMO.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:54 PM on October 16, 2015

We have a chip jar for one of my kiddos... 5 chips and he gets a reward. Over the two years that we've used it, the activities that yield a chip have grown and it seems to have worked quite well.

The items in the reward jar are:

1- hot chocolate
2- root beer
3- special adventure
4- lunch date with mom
5- lunch date with dad
6- stay up late
7- 1 car
8- free pass
9- library trip

The trick for us was to make sure that, once a reward was drawn, even if it couldn't be redeemed immediately, we'd keep it visible and talk about it frequently. Further, we wanted to make sure the rewards were actual special things that he wouldn't experience during normal course of events.
posted by Jacob G at 7:55 PM on October 16, 2015

posted by Toddles at 9:39 PM on October 16, 2015

In a perverse twist of fate, we've found a motivator that is pretty much the opposite of immediate rewards: He declared that he wanted a Lego Death Star, so I told him he'd need to earn half the money.

We're currently filling the jar with nickels and dimes earned for good behavior and doing jobs around the house. 200 bucks worth of nickels is a lot of good behavior. But, insanely, it seems to be working. I guess the nickel is a good immediate motivator, and we periodically swap change out for bills (and small bills for larger bills) so he can see his progress.
posted by telepanda at 8:07 AM on November 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

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