Free and Low-Cost Reward Ideas for Kids

Reward systems father and daughter putting away folded clothes
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Reward systems can be one of the best ways to improve your child's behavior. And the best news is a well-designed reward system will work fast. Many parents assume rewards need to be extravagant items. But rewards don't have to cost any money. There are many free and low-cost ways to reward kids. In fact, you can use many of the privileges your child likely enjoys already. 

Just make sure your child is invested in earning the incentive. While one child may be motivated by extra TV time, another child may be motivated by a trip to the park. So offer rewards that are specific to your child's interests and needs. 

Free and Cheap Reward Ideas for Kids

Whether you want to motivate your child to get chores done, or you want to teach them to stop hitting, here are some free and low-cost reward ideas:

Praise

While you shouldn't reserve praise for giant achievements, you can definitely use words of encouragement as an incentive. When your child knows you're paying attention to their effort, they will be motivated to keep up the good work. So catch your child being good and praise their efforts often.

Tangible Rewards

There are times when praise isn’t enough and kids need a little extra incentive. A treasure box filled with items from the dollar store can go a long way toward keeping kids on track. Let your child choose a reward at the end of the day if they met their goals. 

Or, consider loaning something to your child. If they love wearing your hat or borrowing your office chair, let them use it if they have earned it. 

Later Bedtime

Although some parents are hesitant to allow kids to stay up later, allowing your child to stay up an extra 15 minutes isn't likely to make them sleep-deprived. And a later bedtime can be a big motivator for kids.

Younger kids will often feel like a “big kid” and it can be a great incentive if they are able to stay up later than their siblings. If you have a child who has difficulty sleeping, choose a different incentive or only offer it on nights when they can sleep in a little longer the next day.

Special Activities

Choose a special activity that your child will enjoy and use it as a reward. Playing a board game together, going to the park, or an extra bedtime story are just a few special activities that your child might want to earn. Look for free community events and utilize resources like your local library which often have special events.

Extra Electronics Time

Although it's important to ensure your child's electronics use is limited, you can make time on digital devices a reward. Just make sure you put a cap on how much time your child can earn each day (such as a two-hour limit).

You can offer screen time rewards in 15-minute chunks. If your child follows the rules before school, they might earn 15 minutes of screen time. If they have a good day at school, they might earn 15 more minutes. 

You may want to pick a specific behavior to address, like respectful words or gentle touches. If your child exhibits those behaviors during the specified times, they can earn screen time. 

Crafts

Most kids love to get creative and messy, especially with you participating alongside them. And often, you can come up with a craft project that uses regular household items.

Paper bags make great puppets. Cotton balls and glue can lead to endless creations. Build a model, make some jewelry, or get out the finger paint as a reward for good behavior.

Coupons

Kids love to earn coupons that say things such as “get out of having to do one chore” or “choose your favorite meal for dinner." Allow your child to use their coupons whenever they want (within reason).

Social Activities

Allow kids to earn extra social opportunities such as inviting a friend over or having a sleepover. Other free rewards can include inviting a friend to the park or going to a community activity.

Food

Although it’s not a good idea to offer junk food as an incentive, there are some ways to incorporate food into a reward system. For example, allow your child to choose what’s for dinner or earn an indoor picnic.

Get creative and build a fort out of blankets and eat under the glow of a flashlight, if that would motivate your child to follow the rules. Baking a special treat together may also be a great motivator.

Tokens or Stickers

Token economy systems provide kids with chips or tokens on a daily basis that can later be exchanged for rewards. Provide your child with a varied reward menu that allows them to earn bigger rewards.

You can offer free rewards such as “a trip to the park” in exchange for 10 tokens. Sticker charts can be very rewarding for younger children as well.

Brainstorm Rewards Together

Ask your child what types of rewards they would like to earn. You might find simple things, like sleeping in a pillow fort or visiting a park, work to motivate them to behave. 

Once you have your list complete, identify what your child needs to do to earn their first reward. Be specific and make it relatively simple for them to earn their first reward. Success will fuel their desire to keep up the good work. 

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