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 Encourage
Encouragement and Reward
Motivation is Everything

By: Carol Jimenez

​What motivates you?  What is your currency?  Is it accolades; money; a night out on the town; a quiet cup of coffee and a free hour with the newspaper; a movie and a bowl of popcorn?  

Envision the following scenario.  You're at work, and your boss tells you that you will need to stay a couple of extra hours today to finish something.  That's it.  You're just told to do it.  How motivated are you?  What thoughts are going through your head?  What does it feel like? What will be your quality of work?

Change the scene just a little.  You're at work, and your boss tells you that if you stay a couple of extra hours today to finish something, you can come in at noon tomorrow and just work half a day.  Now, how motivated are you?  What thoughts are going through your head?  How does it feel? What will be the quality of your work?  You're still expected to do the same thing, but in the second scenario, you are encouraged, and maybe even excited to do it.

What motivates your child?  What is their favorite activity, food, book, place? How can you use that information to encourage your child? What is their motivation to do what you are asking them to do?

Therapist says:  "Go ahead Billy, show me the red one."
Billy thinks:  "Why should I?  What's in it for me?

Once you have an idea of what motivates your child, make a list of those motivators.  Think about how to incorporate that motivation into a reward system.  When you see them happy and excited about something, that's it!  It could be anything.

When my son Nathan was in Kindergarten, he used to love to walk into a doughnut shop after school and get a glazed doughnut. So I decided to let him earn those doughnut trips and I put together a star chart with five points.  Each point represented a behavior for that day - a total of five behaviors for each day.  At the end of the day, if all five points were earned, he would trade them in for a small full day star. After five full day stars were earned, he could trade them in for a trip to the doughnut shop.  His reward wasn't expensive - about fifty cents for five days of effort.  But it motivated him, so it worked.

Examples of behaviors are:
Say "Hello" to your brother when you see him." 
"Don't cry when I drop you off at school.  Wave your hand and say 'Bye Mom' instead. 
Come sit at the dinner table when I call you for dinner.
Hang up your backpack after school.

The expectations should be clear, in visual form, and displayed in plain sight.  This type of reward system is called, "Token Economy" The token is the currency used to buy the reward.  In the image scroller to the right, you will see five examples of token economy systems.  One is the star I mentioned, two are special interest boards, and two are paper money or coupon reward systems. 

Natural consequences can be used as a reward as well.  For example, finish your homework early, and you will have more time on the computer.  Contrived consequences (doughnut), or natural consequences amount to basically the same thing - motivation.

However you decide to provide that motivation, the point is, that motivation is key.  In a neurological study presented at the 16th Annual Autism Conference at Cal State San Marcos, activities performed by subjects using motivation were compared to activities performed using a command prompt.  When the subject complied with the command prompt, and performed the activity - throwing a ball for example, the ability to perform the activity itself over time did not improve.  

When compared to the same activity using a motivation, there was marked improvement in willingness and ability.  In other words, they got better at it when motivated, and they didn't get better at it when told to do it.  Which brings us back to the beginning of our story comparing a command to work overtime, versus an encouraging motivator to work overtime.  We know from our own experiences that encouragement and motivation are preferred over commands. Now there is evidence that when we're motivated to do something, we'll get better at it.  

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