Posts Tagged ‘Reward and Praise’

Why I Don’t Like Rewarding Children

I recently read something interesting about reward systems: The greater the reward for an activity, the more we’re programmed to believe we dislike the activity.

For instance, 2 groups of people were told to pick up rubbish in a park. One group was paid more than the other, and then both groups were asked how much they enjoyed the activity. The study found that the group which got paid more found the activity less enjoyable.


So the more someone is willing to reward us for something, the more we must dislike doing it right?

Probably. But does it apply to children? Well, in a childcare environment, I can’t exactly force children to go around picking up rubbish. And there’s not exactly a lot to offer them in terms of rewards either, nor can I survey them at the end!

Nonetheless, here are some of the experiences I’ve had with reward systems:

Reward Finished? Good Behaviour’s Finished Too!

The children were asked to sit down nicely, and whoever sat the nicest would be allowed to feed the fishes. One child who is normally very “strong-willed” thus sat extremely well, and was given the reward.

As soon as she had fed the fishes however, she started being disruptive and  challenging, and was put in time out within minutes!

Stickers, Pee And Poo

A less isolated incident would be a child’s toilet training experience, where he would be rewarded with stickers if he did well. This led up to the point that he would be eager to go to the toilet, and as soon as he’d performed his “task”, he would immediately demand a sticker.

Meanwhile, at home, not only did he have frequent accidents, but he actually hid under a table to do a poo!

Please feel free to share any success stories of your own though. On a separate note, the children actually enjoy picking up rubbish, because they like putting things in the bin.

I know, I’m not a big fan of either punishment OR rewards, so how do I get children to listen? I like the methods in the punishment article for instilling self-discipline, but it’s a gradual process which takes a lot of patience and effort. At least it feels like I’m building a proper relationship with the children, rather than just constantly threatening or bribing them.

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Don’t Reward Or Praise Children

It’s easy to believe that punishing children has many downsides. But what if I said rewarding and praising children is bad as well?

Like a yummy slice of chocolate cake, rewarding and praising children seems great at the time, but you’ll only see the consequences in the long run.

Passion gets stifled

Rewarding children trains them to focus solely on the reward. Even if they used to love an activity, they’ll come to view the activity as an unwanted obstacle for them to overcome in order to get their reward.

Along the way, their creativity and passion will die out. Rather than taking positive risks, children will do the bare minimum to achieve their prize. Why go for 90 marks in an exam, when the Nintendo is already awarded at 80 marks?

And when a child fails to meet the standards required for the reward, he’s already feeling upset that he didn’t perform well. On top of that, he’ll feel even unhappier, as though he’s being punished, when he’s denied the rewards and praise that’s he’s become so used to receiving.

Harmful in the long run

Stars now, storm clouds later?

Relationships get hurt

Oddly enough, saying things like “I know you can do it!” isn’t as encouraging to a child as you may think. By focusing on a child’s potential, you’re saying  “You’re not good enough now, but work a little harder and I may love you more.” It’s clearly spelled out that the child is expected to do better next time, and the child won’t appreciate this.

Even a simple phrase like “Good boy!” can be damaging, as it puts the adult in a judgmental position. You’re telling the child that you are above him, better than him, and you will always ALWAYS be watching and evaluating not only what he’s doing, but how he’s doing as well. That causes a lot of pressure for the child, and creates a barrier between adult and child.

Nobody likes being manipulated

Children also see reward and praise as a way of manipulating them. Don’t think that just because they’re young, they don’t know what’s going on! And in addition to feeling controlled, they will also feel that their emotional well-being is being ignored.

For example, when a child refuses to get in a car, an adult may bribe him with a reward of ice-cream. While it may ultimately get the child in the car, it doesn’t address the underlying issue of why the child didn’t want to do it in the first place. Is he afraid of cars? Is something else upsetting him, like tiredness or hunger?

So if you don’t reward and praise children, what do you do? Is punishment the answer? Not if you’ve read Why Punishing Your Child Is Bad And What To Do Instead.

Can you think of any better ways of offering acknowledgment and positive feedback to children? Share your thoughts below, in the comments section.

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