By Dr. Jan Hittelman

Over the course of many years working with elementary-age children, it became clear to me that the common denominator for the vast majority of my “behavior problem” clients was parental attention. All of this led me to discover the magic of Structured Activity Rewards.

When I would suggest this approach to parents, many would initially respond: “We’ve tried behavioral contracts, what else have you got?” What they didn’t realize was that these behavioral strategies sound easy (i.e. reward the good, punish the bad), but common pitfalls tend to sabotage the system. These pitfalls typically include: using an overly complicated system (usually including grids and charts), choosing unmotivating “rewards”, not including the child in the creation of the plan, no plan for phasing out the system, lack of clarity regarding the behaviors themselves, expecting perfection, bribing versus reinforcing and poor parental follow through.

The purpose of the Activity Rewards Contract is to ensure initial practice of the behavior(s) that we are encouraging the child to learn. Motivation and practice are essential ingredients towards learning new skills and behaviors. For children needing to improve their behavior, however, there is often an initial lack of motivation and subsequent practice of the skills required. Using structured activity rewards solves this problem. In addition, using parental time and attention as the primary incentive serves to enhance the parent-child relationship and improves the parent’s overall discipline technique. The system, then, attempts to retrain both child and parent.

By precisely following the steps outlined below, the results are often immediate and dramatic:
1. Decide on the specific behavior.
2. Brainstorm fun activities with your child.
3. Discuss the specific behavior with your child.
4. Negotiate the terms of the contract together and write it out.
5. Review the contract together and make corrections where needed.
6. Read and sign the contract.
7. Encourage success; be the “good coach”.
8. Monitor progress.
9. Follow-up as soon as possible with earned activity rewards.
10. Revise the contract as needed.
11. When appropriate, phase out the contract.

For more detailed instructions and examples of real case studies, you can download my book: “Parenting Essentials: Seven Steps to Parenting Success”, at no charge from our web site: