Artificial Reinforcers

"Unfortunately for us parents, natural reinforcers are frequently insufficient motivationfor a child to complete an artificial task. Your son, for example, may be a natural slob - a clean room means nothing to him. Or your little girl may be attention deficit and learning disabled, and homework provides no satisfaction - but much frustration - for her. In these cases you must use artificial reinforcers. For smaller children the best ideas are often relatively small things that can be dished out frequently and in little pieces. With older kids, larger rewards that take longer to earn become more feasible." (1-2-3 Magic, 122) - I'll add that kids with ADHD need small things things that can be dished out frequently. I've noticed with Preston that rewards need to be fairly immediate otherwise it isn't worth it to him. It is also good to do things for kids just 'because you are you and I love you.' That is some wonderful advice our therapist gave me.

I've established chores that Preston is able to earn tickets for:
~Make his bed in the morning
~"Feed" the laundry basket or drawers - I've tried to make putting his clothes away a game in that the laundry basket and drawers are mouths that need to be fed. Amazingly enough, this has helped him put clothes away.
~Brush teeth in the morning and at night
~Bringing his lunch box home
~Completing homework
~Cleaning room
~A good deed
~Anything above and beyond
~And sometimes just because I love you

In 1-2-3 Magic, Phelan came up with a much larger and better list than I did of artificial reinforcers along with my thoughts on how many tickets it takes to earn the reinforcer (given he can usually earn about eight tickets a day with what he is expected to do):

A trip for ice cream - 40 tickets
A trip to Kneaders for a cookie - 32 tickets
A small toy - 40 tickets
Renting a special game - 24 tickets
Renting a special movie - 16 tickets
Watching a movie on a school night - 8 tickets
Cash - $.15/ticket
Staying up past bedtime - He struggles getting to sleep so this one may not be an option for him
A grab-bag surprise - 16 tickets
Outing with a parent - 24 tickets
Shopping trip - 80 tickets
Sleepover with Mimi and Baba - 64 tickets
Extra game time with parent - 8 tickets
A "No Chore" Voucher - 24 tickets
Campout in backyard - or even a campout in the house - 64 tickets
Snack of choice - 8 tickets
Breakfast in bed - 32 tickets
Comic book or magazine - 16 tickets
Friend over for dinner - 40 tickets
Choice of three reinforcers - 104 tickets
Sleeping with dog or cat - 16 tickets
Items for a collection - 16 tickets
Helping make and eat cookies - 8 tickets
Using power tool with supervision - 24 tickets
Walk dog with parent - 8 tickets
15 Minutes extra TV time - 8 tickets
15 Minutes extra video game on weekends - 24 tickets
$5 Extra Allowance money - 56 tickets

I'm going to post this in his room and keep a copy on hand for myself and I know it will only work if I follow through on giving him his tickets at the end of each day and follow through quickly when he 'cashes' them in. Boo-yah!


  1. Hi Burnsy! I'm glad you are liking the Green Apple Baby Blog :) I LOVE LOVE LOVE your ticket concept for chores and rewards!! My little one is only 14 1/2 months but I am totally stealing this idea :)
    I also use coconut milk along with hemp milk and almond milk. I'll be posting a blog this week about what goes in my son's sippy cup so stay tuned!!

  2. Diva,

    This is a great idea. I have done something very similar with my young piano students, only they earn points for certain areas of success which are converted into plastic gold coins I buy at the party store. They then trade in their coins to Mom & Dad for privileges. One kid wanted to see a live Jazz game which cost him over 200 gold coins! Some parents will pay them .10 per gold coin. At the end of the school year at our Annual Awards Concert, a first, second and third place award is given for the top three earners in the studio. I hope this is working for Preston.


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