Forward Momentum in Artic Therapy, Part 5: Motivation and Rewards

August 5, 2014 BY Kelly C. Bawden, MS, CCC-SLP

Momentum in Artic 5

In some ways, this series all boils down to this last post (read the whole series here). As a seasoned SLP, I know that I can have the best lesson plan in the world that incorporates the coolest materials ever made, but if my client isn’t into it, game over. Believe me when I tell you that this has happened to me more times than I care to count, especially early in my career. Making things part of the daily routine and making them fun goes a long way to mitigate the “flop factor,” but the final piece of the puzzle is the reward system. Now, before you get upset and start in with the “kids today think they get prizes for EVERYTHING!” rant, let me say that I feel you on that front. I really do. But hear me out, ok?

Psych 101 taught us that humans (and nearly all other critters) operate on a reward/punishment system. Very, very simplified, it goes something like this: Do something, get a reward, chances go up that you’ll do that something again to get another reward, and the cycle continues. Do something, receive a punishment, chances go down that you’ll do that something again so that you’ll avoid the punishment. So, you go to work (behavior), you get a paycheck (reward), you go back to work (repeated behavior). Right? Right.

Here’s the 1-2-3 of setting up a basic reward system:

  1. Establish Currency Motivation and rewards for articulation can be literally anything, but they need to be meaningful to your child. I have had students work for individual lego pieces that go to complete a set, for YouTube time, for Hot Cheetos. Working with your own child, maybe it’s motivating to work towards special alone time with a parent, or a trip to a favorite play spot or ice cream shop. For some kids, the reward of simply being done with speech forever is motivation enough. Regardless of what they want to work for, set-up a contract with them and stick to it.
  2. Make It Visual This is where Ye Olde Star Charte comes in, but you’re certainly not required to go that route. I currently have one written on a small dry-erase board on my fridge that says “Soccer Nets,” “You need 50 points!” and my boys get hash marks to measure progress (this isn’t for speech work, btw — more like trying to teach the value of a dollar and that when you wreck things they cost money to replace — but you get the picture). You and your child need to know the goal and what they’re working for. That’s it. The level of bedazzling is up to you.
  3. Be Consistent You wouldn’t keep going to work if your boss paid you for some days and not for others and you never knew when a paycheck was coming. Same principle applies here. Have your speech practice session, give the points/stars/stamps/etc. per your contract, and shell out the big prize when it’s earned.

Just to give you a big picture of how this can look, I’ll share an example from my life. We used to work on speech at the breakfast/dinner table. We had a big stack of word cards, and would put 5 cards on a ring, and my son would flip through and say each word 5 times (i.e. “snake, snake, snake, snake, snake”). For 5 correct productions, he got a star on the card. Once there was 5 stars, he got to rip the card off the ring and rip it into little pieces. Once we were totally out of words, he earned a trip to his favorite big indoor play park. Not fancy, but helped him stay motivated when he didn’t want to practice, and sure enough, he mastered those s-blends. And really, that’s what this entire series has been about. Articulation therapy shouldn’t be a life sentence, and, with a little bit of practice at home, it won’t be!