I have struggled to get my son to do anything lately. For some reason the only phrases he seems to remember start with no. No way, no how, no chance. It was getting VERY old, to say the least. He would not leave the house, even to go to church.
He seemed to want to be the boss all the time. I started hiring a sitter just so I could do some shopping and unwind. And to top it off, my husband was traveling so much for work that I was ready to lose my mind.
Then my son’s ABA therapist (my son has autism) had an idea—A prize box. Seriously it was such a wonderful lifeline that even saying the words should make music play!
This investment has been such a blessing that I had to write about it. I hope this can help you too. It’s a resource that will work whether you have a child on the spectrum or not. Everyone is motivated to get prizes. I know I am!
My prize box is made of a smaller sized plastic storage tote. It’s clear so my son can see everything inside it. I went to great lengths to make it as appealing as possible. Inside are prizes that range from small to huge.
A smaller prize is earned by having a good day, picking up his toys when asked, or listening to Mom when I call him for dinner. It can be adjusted for your child and their needs. But the idea is to keep them motivated. So set them up for success by finding easy ways to earn a treat every day. And keep the small prizes inexpensive.
I got a bag of ring pops and mini Reese’s peanut butter cups for small prizes. Both are a favorite treat, and relatively inexpensive. These treats are only in the prize box. So if he wants one, he has to do something to earn it. (I do have similar treats around, but the ring pops are exclusively in the prize box.)
A medium prize is earned by doing something he doesn’t like and is a little harder for him. Again, it depends on your child, but I put diecast cars from the Cars 3 movie in the box as medium prizes. And I set him up for small, achievable goals.
The other day he earned a medium prize by agreeing to come with me to the store and to get gas. Since he hasn’t been leaving the house at all, that was a big deal for him. Be sure that you don’t set the bar too high. It can be overwhelming for a kid to be at the store for hours no matter who he is.
For this outing I only had to get 2 things at one store, then we drove to get gas, pick up a pizza for dinner, then came home. I wanted him to see that he could earn the medium prize if he put in a little effort, and it paid off. When I suggested the next challenge, he was all primed to reach for success.
This week was the 4th of July. And the extended family had a huge gathering planned. Everyone was going to be there. We would be out late (trigger #1), it was a hot day (trigger #2), there would be loud fireworks (trigger #3), and there were going to be all his little cousins there (trigger #3 1/2). He likes his cousins, that’s why it only got a 1/2.
Before the prize box, I would have been trying to find an excuse why we couldn’t go. I was anxious that the evening would be a success. So I promised my boy that if he made it through the evening, and was on good behavior, that he could choose anything out of the prize box no matter how big.
I did tell him that he could choose a medium prize just for going because I recognized this would be a challenge. I told him that if we needed to leave, or he needed some alone time that all he had to do was ask. And he would not get in trouble for asking for help. I had stocked the box recently with entire playsets from the Cars 3 movie—his new favorite. So he was drooling and eager for a chance to earn one.
The evening was a huge success! I have not seen this boy so well behaved for months! He was on his very best behavior. And when there was a small scuffle with his younger cousin, he resolved it quickly and we moved on.
He didn’t ask to come home early. And he didn’t shy away from the fireworks. I really thought he would. But his wonderful aunt thought ahead and brought earplugs for all the kids. Brilliant! The evening was wonderful. When we came home all covered in ash, he even willingly got in the shower for a quick clean off before he chose the biggest prize in the box.
We were all so very happy. He was happy because he found that when he was trying, he could have fun. He also got a pretty sweet toy out of the deal. And Hubby and I were thrilled that we had an enjoyable evening with family, and our son didn’t freak out once.
I could tell there were a few times that he hunkered down when the fireworks were very loud. But he made it through! I’m going to keep thinking of more things to add to the prize box and keep this tradition going. I love it!
Some other suggestions for items for the prize box are dollar store toys; coupons for anything they find appealing; fruit snacks; coupons for treats; coupons for choosing a special dinner; and even coupons for special kid dates.
My son loves to play Xbox with my husband, so one of the prizes we have is a coupon for one hour of uninterrupted Daddy time. That’s a kid date. If you have ideas for the prize box, feel free to share in the comments. I can use all the ideas I can get. And I hope this has helped you to get a few ideas that may help your little one begin to overcome some of their personal hurdles.
Abby is a one of those women who accidentally finds herself on the PTA board. She loves to be involved, and nothing matters more to her than her family and her faith. She comes from a family with many autistic members. And now she gets to see how her mother felt raising an autistic son. As she wades into this new world, she invites us to join her. Hopefully, we will all learn something new along the way. If you or a family member have autism yourself, Abby wants you to know that this isn't a bad thing. It's just an adjustment, and you or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will learn this new language.