I have found that most efforts at reward systems fall totally flat in this house, usually because it's not so easy to find a 'reward' that OB actually cares about. However, about 18 months ago, I hit on our 'jar of beads' system (which I blogged about here), and in the months since, we have come back to it periodically, whenever I've felt as though some aspect of OB's behaviour is actually well within his control and could be improved with a little purposeful effort.
We only ever do it for two or three days at a time. I choose a couple of very specific behaviours or actions I would like to see happening, discuss it with OB, and every time I see those positive behaviours through the day, he gets to pop a bead in the jar. At the end of the day (or earlier if he chooses) the number of beads in the jar equates to some reward - whatever he's into at that moment.
Recently, OB has discovered that he can download and play free games via our Amazon Firestick. I'm not particularly stressed by this as I enjoy games myself, and we have whiled away some enjoyable hours together, but it has had the side effect of leading to exponentially increased requests for screen time so that, for the first time ever, I've felt the need to impose some limits.
We have also seen an increase in some non-serious, but niggling, low level 'attitude' problems, My voice has become so much white noise in the face of it and, to be honest, our days were starting to feel long and a bit miserable. Crucially, I had a hunch that some of what I was seeing was entirely within OB's control and, if he chose, with support he could make some simple changes and hopefully break some habits.
So we have had two days of the jar. Two beautiful, calm, polite, loving days. OB has been civility itself. And each bead has resulted in 10 minutes of screen time for him to use whenever he chooses. I love it when I can kill two birds with one stone.
At the end of the second day, we talked about how lovely our time together had been. He had noticed the calmer atmosphere (i.e. the lack of irritated nagging from me!) and seemed to like it. We agreed that our home would be a much more pleasant place if we could continue to speak and behave respectfully to one another. And then I put the jar away because I want OB's motivation to be his own appreciation of the lovely atmosphere, and not the promise of beads in a jar.
The more I use it, the more I realise that the jar is as much about me as it is about him. If the first few conversations of our day are fractious (as they are wont to be if they take place pre 6am!) then it can set the tone for the rest of the day. I find myself far too near the edge of irritation, super-sensitive to every 'tone', quick to react, to nag and to see the worst.
The jar forces me to appreciate the good. It makes me notice when OB is being respectful, using his manners, doing good listening, doing his home ed learning without complaining, or whatever else I've decided it will be used for. I am constantly looking out for opportunities to praise him instead of nag him. It provides me with a much-needed reminder of all the lovely aspects of OB's character. It's a gentle two-day reset button for both of us.