Typically, I prefer not to use rewards or punishments- more like consequences- good and bad. However, there is a time for what you've sworn is not the best way. Here's my opinion.
I hate rewarding or motivating with food. That comes from my days at working with overweight children in a school setting where teachers were awarding mediocre behavior with THOUSANDS of calories. That's not an exaggeration.
Candy, cakes, cookies, etc. are fun and yummy and have their appropriate place in the world, but NOT as a reward for good behavior......well, at least with very few exceptions. (yes, I have done it before.)
Trinkets and toys are better, but still clutter up my house and give the child the idea that they should receive something any time they do something good.
Sometimes I say things, well, just blurt things out not knowing how it will be received. Last night Savannah was doing her Math and I told her that every time she got a problem right she "got" to do 10 jumping jacks. Well, what do you know, it worked! She was so excited when she got to do her jumping jacks. It motivated her! It gave her a little boost of energy to keep going...and going, and going. She had so much fun and was silly, counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9....100! Then fall over laughing, get another problem right and do it all over again.
I tried the same thing with Brooke today and it worked as well.
Other motivators I've tried:
- Using a "Superstar" necklace that they get to wear if I catch them making a good choice. Then it is their job to catch someone else making a good choice and to pass it on. They are excited for each other and love to pass it on!
- 15 minutes of computer time. I have a list of pre-approved web sites and a timer. The thought here is if they get their work done and done well then they can play. Work before play. I do always have "free time" play that is not earned because I believe in the benefits of it. Computer playing can be eliminated if need be, though.
- Last year my Mom made each of the girls sticker books by printing graphics off of the computer and laminating and binding them at the school. Now I can motivate them with sticker and there is a place to put them- NOT on my furniture or walls!! Stickers can be cheap and fun.
- Stamps are even cheaper.
- Asking them to help me with something because they have shown that they are responsible enough to handle it.
- And finally, let's not underestimate the power of positive words. "Wow, you really worked hard at that!", or "You must feel great about what you did today!", or " I saw how patient you were when we were getting ready for lunch!" Things like that work much better than criticism, believe me, I know.
Obviously, personality and preferences play a huge role in what motivates each child. All 4 of my girls are very different! They are so fun to study and to see what makes them tick. I LOVE my job!