Implementing a Reward System for Children with Special Needs
In recent days I’ve worked through two situations where a child was exhibiting challenging conduct inside a church ministry setting. In both cases, the child’s behavior had become disruptive to typical peers and frustrating to the volunteers. The reasons for the child’s problematic behavior were similar…the child wanted to escape the current activity, he/she had a sensory need, they were physically tired, or they were over stimulated. In the conversations with the children’s ministry team members, we talked about giving the child an alternate activity, removing them from a setting, and allowing him/her personal space to recharge. But one of the main components of the new “behavior plan” would be instilling a reward system.
Oftentimes children behave poorly as a way of communicating a need. Hitting a neighbor may be a child’s way of expressing a desire for a certain toy or crayon. Hugging or squeezing a friend may actually be fulfilling a child’s sensory need for exertion or compression. While the class leader can work to recognize and address the specific needs of the child, creating a reward system for constructive communication may help re-shape the child’s behavior.
I came up with a “Super Star Tracker” as my reward system when I volunteer in kidmin settings. I use the Super Star Tracker currently in my Awana Sparks class. On Wednesday nights I lead a room full of 14 Sparks (first grade boys). My Awana class is a typical children’s ministry environment. However, as statistics would tell us, we have participants with diagnosed learning disabilities and who exhibit characteristics associated with ADHD. Because boys are restless after a full day of school and especially in an environment prone to chaos, using this reward system has been an invaluable tool for keeping the class manageable. I have been thrilled with the success of the Super Star Tracker. And on nights we don’t use the Super Star Tracker reward system, I hear complaints from ALL the boys!
Here’s how it works:
I laminate the template for 6 reward trackers (you can download the “Super Star Tracker Template” from my linked website). I then cut each tracker out and affix a plastic string to the tracker. Each student wears the Super Star Tracker throughout the evening. I wear a “necklace” with an attached hole-punch. As I see the boys participating constructively (working on a Bible verse, playing quietly with Lincoln Logs, listening during the Bible presentation), I punch out a star on their tracker. If a particular child has struggled with destructive means for communication, I may reward him for raising his hand rather than hitting his neighbor. And when the situation warrants, I can denote “lost stars” as well. After a child has punched out all the stars on his tracker, he gets to select a reward from my treasure box. My treasure box is full of very inexpensive toys, stickers, and candy. I cannot tell you how well this recognition system has worked for managing and motivating our room full of antsy and ornery little boys!
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