My kids have no concept of the cost of things. I could give them a $1 bill or a $100 bill and until recently, they would have meant the same thing to them. It helped me learn to start giving my nieces and nephews their birthday money in $1 bills because they feel so rich when they open their card!
So when I realized that my kids weren’t understanding the reward at the Target dollar section was different from a Roblox gift card or a new Lego kit, I knew I had to change up how we rewarded good behavior.
Here are my top ten ways to reward kids for little to no cost. A hint—they really just want our time.
- Staying up late. My kids have pretty strict bedtimes, and they’re pretty early. Partially because they are early risers and mostly because I just want time alone/with my partner at the end of the night. So when I let my kids stay up for an extra 30 or 60 minutes to watch extra tv, play a board game, or fidget trade with their sibling—it’s a hit.
- Movie Night. Similar to staying up late, but this one has a purpose! Family movie night is still a big hit in my house. Getting to pick the movie and know they can have popcorn on the couch while snuggling up with me goes a long way to encourage good behavior!
- Choose dinner. I do meal planning most of the time, and we don’t eat out often. So my kids would consider it a big treat to get to swap up the meal for a night (like order pizza or sushi) or get to choose the restaurant (especially because mine would choose McDonald’s, which makes me cringe and I never voluntarily take them there)
- Bring lunch to school (or milkshake to practice). With covid, this isn’t an option for me right now, but my kids used to love the special days when either myself or a grandparent would come for lunch and bring them something special to eat! Plus, just the time together and getting to sit at the special parents and guests table! If you can’t take things to school or your kid wouldn’t want you to come, try bringing them a treat to the end of sports practice or music lesson.
- Breakfast or coffee before school. Can you start your kid off on the right foot with special one-on-one time with you? Since the pandemic started, I’ve started using Starbucks as my treat, and my kids often ask for me to get them a milkshake (the creme frappuccino). And I always say no. This is mama’s treat. So when they earn a reward and get mama’s treat? Double win!
- Buy them something they need (shh!). Could your son use a new soccer ball for this season? Your daughter some new swimsuits? Or shorts for school? Think about something that would be exciting to them but also something they could use. I like this a lot with my new middle schooler. She’s overhauling her style and trying to figure out what’s cool to wear and that’s clearly no longer Cat & Jack from Target.
- Screen time! Maybe you have strict rules today for screens, and maybe you don’t. I’ve gone through waves of limiting time and then sometimes I don’t limit much at all. I am strict on apps they can use and their iPads have quiet time starting around 8 until 7 the next morning. It’s special when I increase their app limits, and this is a go-to that I use often! You want 2 hours extra of Roblox today? Ok, you need to clean your room and get the clothes in your drawers all folded nicely!
- Game night. My kids LOVE when we get to play games—probably because we don’t get to do them often because we have a 2 year old who prohibits a lot of organized play! But Pictionary Air is one of our favorites lately—you have a pen that connects to your tablet or phone, so someone is drawing in the air (not able to see what they are doing) and it shows up on someone’s phone/tablet. It’s hilarious!
- Sleepovers. Sleepovers with a friend, sleepovers with mom or dad, sleepovers with a sibling. All of these are big wins in my house. As a former single mom, my kids would often get nights of snuggling up in bed with me, so when they get the chance to do that now, they love it. Plus, my older two are still in a phase where they love to stay up later together and share a bed.
- When in doubt, dessert first. I don’t like to use sweets or junk food for a reward. But, I’m not above switching up the order of a meal. What kid wouldn’t want to have their cookies or bowl of ice cream before they’ve eaten their chicken and veggies? Especially if their brothers or sisters have to watch them eat the treat before they get it!
I hope you’ll try a few of these! And if you have other ideas, send them my way! I’m always looking for creative and new ways to recognize and thank my kids for doing great things!