The Science Behind Incentivization: 3 Ways to Reward Your Young Patients

When young patients are calm and accepting of their treatment, taking care of kids can be awesome. But it’s not always easy street, especially with the unpredictability of a patient who can’t fully communicate their emotions. Crying, tantrums, anxiety — it’s stressful for the child, the parent and for you. Luckily, SmileMakers has studied the science of incentivization, and come up with a few ideas of how to apply the reward system to your practice.

The Science Behind Incentivization: 3 Ways to Reward Your Young Patients

First, Understanding Incentivization & Rewards

As a medical professional, you'll meet many different parents with an equally diverse set of parenting styles. You may be a parent yourself, or have studied techniques on how to raise and treat children at some point in your schooling or career. If you're familiar with studies about incentivizing kids with rewards, you might have noticed that there are mixed reviews on this approach.

Some studies done in the early 70s showed that introducing rewards as incentive to complete activities seemed to decrease intrinsic motivation to perform the same activity without the reward. In other words, if you ask someone to complete a puzzle for a dollar, they will gladly complete the task. But if you ask them again the next day and don't offer a dollar, they don't see much point in it.

It's important to note that this study was done with adults and the requested task was enjoyable. Rewards are most commonly used in situations where someone does not enjoy the activity. And for children, rewards can be used as a tool to change a bad or undesirable behavior. It's called repeated practice, and the idea is that if a child gets rewarded for good behaviors, those behaviors will become habits. The child will eventually stop asking for the reward, but will continue the good habit because a new expectation has been set.

Thankfully, not every child you treat is your responsibility to raise. But you can apply the rewards system to your practice in a healthy and helpful way for all children.

The Science Behind Incentivization: 3 Ways to Reward Your Young Patients

1. Use Tokens As Rewards
Do you remember pleading with your parents for a quarter so you could get a gumball from the gumball machine? For many of us, its a fond memory and a simple pleasure. But for kids, this could be something they look forward to when visiting the doctor. And any positive associations they have when it comes to healthcare make it that much more likely that they'll grow up to prioritize their health.

SmileMakers has capsule vending machines that function similarly to those classic gumball machines and offer the same excitement. But instead of bugging their parents for money, you can offer them a token for a good appointment. Keep the machine in the waiting room so kids can check out what's available. And then watch as kids become calm, brave patients.

2. Start a "Wall of Fame"
Different kids are motivated by different rewards. Sometimes a physical gift is not as important to them as recognition. If you find that some children are unmotivated by traditional prizes and rewards, try putting a "Wall of Fame" in a prominent place in the office, like the waiting room. Reserve the space for the best behaved kids, the children who brush every day, those who exceed you and your teams expectations. When kids see what their peers have achieved, they'll want that recognition, too.

Part of the appeal can be the experience of taking the picture. Who doesn't love a photo booth-style photoshoot? With fun accessories, like sunglasses and jewelry, kids can enjoy an experiential reward and get a fun memory out of it as well.

The Science Behind Incentivization: 3 Ways to Reward Your Young Patients

3. Create a Health Journal
Sometimes treatment is ongoing or complex. An interesting way to help kids understand their healthcare and treatment is to get them to write about it. SmileMakers has passport books that help kids document their journey. It gives them an outlet for their emotions and also helps you and their parents see how they're doing. Kids don't always understand why they get sick, but journaling might help them cope with it.

Looking for more ways to reward?
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Sources:
Wenner Moyer, Melinda (2017). Go Ahead, Heap Rewards on Your Kid Retrieved from:
http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_kids/2017/08/rewards_systems_for_kids_are_effective_if_you_use_them_correctly.html