Rewards for Good Behavior for Adults

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When children misbehave, they often get sent to a “timeout” area. When they're good, they often receive an award. Adults, meanwhile, are often ignored after misbehaving – and equally ignored after they've done something worth praising. So what's wrong with this picture? Why do adults often get the fuzzy end of the lollipop?

Why Rewards Matter

It could be because many people simply don't know how to reward good behavior in adults. And this is a shame, because psychologists say it's a skill worth acquiring – whether the adult worth celebrating is a spouse, child, parent, coworker or employee. Rewards for adults can fortify relationships, filling the recipient with gratitude and goodwill and the desire to repeat the good behavior. Rewards can trigger a pleasant, repetitive cycle of good behavior that means benefits for both parties.

Like many people, you may see the benefits clearly; it's the execution that can be as fuzzy as that lollipop. If money is no object, there's no shortage of store and restaurant gift cards at your disposal. But if you're interested in instituting a regular reward system, you may be on the lookout for some low-cost and no-cost ideas that you can personalize with ease. If so, look no further:

Low-Cost and No-Cost Reward Ideas

Write a handwritten note of appreciation – but make it stand out by writing it on a poster board. Unless you're accustomed to writing super-sized messages, creating this reward will go more smoothly if you write in pencil first and then trace your words with a marker.

Create a coupon book with 10 or so different rewards that the adult can redeem at will. Think in terms of small gestures that will put an extra bounce in the adult's day. If it's a coworker, give him or her “first crack” at the morning pot of coffee in the morning. If it's a spouse, give him or her “time off” from a task he or she normally is responsible for. And if it's a parent (who probably wants to spend more time with you), allow him or her to come up with 10 day-long outings or excursions that just the two of you can enjoy.

Indulge people's love of puns by purchasing one large gift of significance or a group of smaller ones and then linking the name of the product with a note. Use 100 Grand candy bars to point out that the adult is worth even more to you. Invoke peanuts to say that you're “nuts” about the adult (or what he or she did to spawn the award). Buy a bag of Bugles to say that you're going to “shout” your gratitude from the rooftops. Purchase some pretzels and say that you'd be “in knots” without the person in your life. Purchase a light bulb and credit the adult as the originator of “bright ideas.”

Set the stage – literally – for presenting your reward. If you don't want to dress up in a gorilla suit or Hawaiian garb, then find an accomplice who can lavish attention on the adult in a show-stopping manner. Dress up in a tuxedo, wear a cap and gown, or strum a few chords on a guitar to give your reward double meaning.

Make Your Rewards for Adults Go the Distance

A few pointers may make your reward even more meaningful:

Make sure your message is clear. If you want to reinforce the adult's behavior, and motivate him or her to repeat it, ensure that the reward or the accompanying note underscores the good behavior. And if you're unsure, spell it out clearly, as in, “I want to thank you very much for...”

Ensure that the reward teems with positivity: Most adults can appreciate a reward given in humor. But if your reward starts to take on a sarcastic or biting tone, scrap it and think of something else. Your well-intentioned reward could backfire.

Present the reward in a timely manner: Present your reward soon after the good behavior occurred. Like thank you notes, rewards can lose their significance with the passage of too much time.