It takes courage, perseverance and hard work to fight back against anxiety. As your youth starts to take important steps towards bossing back his/her anxiety, s/he will start to notice improvements.
These improvements will feel good and give your child further encouragement to continue to use tools to reclaim his/her life before the anxiety took over. However, for some youth, taking the first important steps in this “battle” can be hard. As a result, you may decide that it’s necessary to create a points plan to incentivize and reward hard work. A points plan, as described below, also can be a useful addition if your child has been fighting his/her anxiety for sometime but is getting tired of the ongoing hard work.
Designing a Points Plan
The purpose of a points plan is to motivate your child to use anxiety management tools, as outlined in your child’s My Anxiety Plan (MAP), with a specific emphasis on use of his/her Facing my Fears steps. We recommend doing this through verbal encouragement, privileges and rewards. While the goal, eventually, is to have your child feel good about his/her cognitive and behavior change as its own reward, some initial incentives can be a helpful step in that direction. We recommend creating a simple points plan,: the less complex it is, the easier it will be to follow and maintain over time.
Take a sheet of paper and create 2 lists. List 1 will include all the tools you want your child to use, including his or her daily Facing my Fears step. Assign 1, 2 or 3 points per tool/step, based on the level of difficulty or expected frequency of use of that tool. For example, easier and more frequent tools may earn only 1 point.
List 2 will include all the possible rewards your child can “buy,” and the “cost” of each reward. Aim for a variety of items from small to large. This economy system should allow for small prizes to be earned weekly, with medium and larger prizes being earned once or twice per month. The cost/value of each prize will change over time as your child gets better at using his/her tools and starts to earn more points. For physical points, you can use stickers, buttons, poker chips, beads, etc. Keep these available in your purse, car and the home for easy administration each time your child uses a tool. You can also ask your child to track his/her own points, obtaining these from you at the end of each day. Finally, choose a time each week when the “store” is open and points can be traded for prizes.
These additional guidelines can help direct you in this process:
- Be clear: State exactly what you expect from your youth, so you both agree what needs to happen to earn a point. Similarly, have a clear plan with your child about what s/he can trade for his/her points. Invite your youth to help choose the rewards and privileges.
- Be consistent: Every time your child engages in the target behaviour or uses his/her tools, be sure to give the point/s. If you only give points when you remember or when it’s convenient, your child will start to lose trust in the system.
- Be immediate: Give points as soon as these are earned and trade points for prizes or privileges as soon as your child has sufficient points. If you fail to honor your child’s earned reward, your child will stop working. Would you keep going to work if your boss forgot to pay you?
- Be positive: If your youth fails to engage in the target behavior or to use the tool, s/he cannot earn the point/s. However, don’t dwell on this. Stay positive by reminding your youth when s/he will have another opportunity to earn the point. Provide verbal encouragement that s/he can be successful next time.
- Be flexible: Once you notice that your youth is steadily making progress, you may want to modify the points plan to ensure it’s not becoming too easy (i.e. s/he is earning big rewards daily). Conversely, if the points plan appears to be too hard for your child, you can modify it in the other direction.
It’s important to select rewards that you feel comfortable giving and that are convenient and readily available. Depending on your youth’s age, developmental level and interests, some options will be better than others. It’s important that whatever options are available, they are only available within the points plan. If your youth has unlimited screen time, s/he will be unlikely to work hard to earn points for extra screen time. Some options are:
Getting out of chores:
- A night off from doing dishes
- Does not have to take out trash
- Does not have to walk dog
- A day/week of not having to clean room/make bed
- Bed-time postponed by 30 minutes
- 30 minutes earned of screen time (TV, i-pad, computer, X-box, etc.)
- Special time with a parent
- A game of basketball in the yard
- Restaurant of his/her choice on “family dine-out” night
- Have a friend over
- Invite a friend to dinner
- Bake with a parent
- Help parent with a hobby (fixing the car, gardening, an important project)
- Gets to have pet sleep in room overnight
- Pencils, stickers, other small office supplies
- Hair accessories
- Small action figures
- Nail polish, lotions, etc.
- Trading cards
- iTunes Gift Card
- Movie ticket
- Favorite soda/ice-cream/snack supplied at home
- Spa bath (favorite bubbles, music, etc.)
Anxious patterns of thinking and acting can take time to change, especially if they have been around for a long time. Try not to become discouraged if progress appears to be slow. Chart your child’s progress to help track whether things are getting better.
Learning to overcome anxiety is like exercise – your child needs to “keep in shape” and practice his/her skills regularly. Make them a habit. This is true even after your child is feeling better and has reached his/her goals.
Don’t be discouraged if your child has lapses and returns to his/her old behaviors every once in a while, especially during stressful times or transitions (for example, going back to school or moving). This is normal, and just means that your child will want to re-use some tools from his/her My Anxiety Plan (MAP). Remember, coping with anxiety is a lifelong process.