Post from Member: My 5.5-year-old works REALLY hard for the positive behavior reward at school and we celebrate when his efforts pay off. Lately, he’s earned them a few times and pouts if he feels like we “aren’t celebrating him”. While we make a big deal verbally and we have let him choose how to celebrate, we don’t take off on an ordeal of an adventure every time and he thinks we should (trampoline park, going out for ice cream/sushi). Is this an indication of him needing to feel more significant? If yes, can you remind me of small, yet big to him ways we can deposit? 🙂

Reply from Rachel: 

I love that you are really trying to look for the cause of that behavior! I’m not sure that this is a need for significance as much as the fact that kids get used to the dose of dopamine (good feelings!) that they experience when they receive a reward and they want more of it! That’s one of the reasons that external motivators like rewards can backfire sometimes.

One of the things you can do instead of celebrating the rewards or positive behavior so much is to start to foster INTERNAL positive feelings. So instead of “Yay! You won an award!” you could say, “What was it like for you when you won that reward? What did you do to earn that reward? How did it feel to do those things that earned you the reward?” That way you’re teaching them to look inside for those feelings and be aware of how positive behavior makes them feel.

But just in case you do still want to make simple deposits into significance, here are some ways to do that:

  • Have a unique ritual with them — something that belongs only to you and them
  • Remember something that brought them joy and casually ask them about it a day or two later
  • The next time they do something you don’t like, really try to see it from their perspective

I hope that helps!