How old does my child have to be to start using rewards to help her get through the bedtime routine?
Reward systems are great to help change behavior! Most little ones are not ready for a reward system until around 3 years of age. Some can understand the concept by 2 ½, but others not until closer to 4 years of age – especially if they have to wait at all for whatever they are earning. When you do set up a reward system, make it one that is easy to understand for your little one and one in which she can easily do to earn rewards, especially at first. This means that she won’t have to do too much to earn the reward at first (only a little effort on her part) and that she gets the reward pretty quickly after she shows that effort (she gets it close in time to when she does what you would like her to do). Be sure that your expectations for earning a reward are very concrete. For example, reward her for getting her teeth brushed, pajamas on, and in bed before a timer goes off instead of telling her that she will get a reward “for being good.” Immediate rewards are also best. For example, put a sticker on a sticker chart the moment she gets in bed. That is better than waiting until the next morning. Some other examples of great rewards are things like social praise (e.g., “look you got a sticker for getting into bed! I am so proud of you”) or family activities (e.g., going on a family bike ride, playing a family game). Start with small goals that your child can be successful at, such as falling asleep in her bed at bedtime, and move up to bigger goals (e.g., sleeping in her own bed all night) once she is able to conquer the smaller steps.