Rewards Carry Risks
By Barbara Fyles
Punishing children for bad behaviour has its downfalls. It may elicit
temporary compliance, but in most cases, this isn't lasting and often
makes children angry, defiant, or have a desire for revenge. This model
of power rather than reason can spoil the relationship between adult and
So what do parents do when faced with behaviour problems? In many cases
they turn instead to the use of rewards. Modern trends advocate the use
of stickers and stars, awards and privileges to induce a child to comply
with adult's demands.
Unfortunately, recent research proves that, in the long run, carrots
turn out to be no more effective than sticks.
Why? Well, if you embark upon a programme of rewards to improve
behaviour; once the rewards stop, children usually return to their old
behaviour patterns. More disturbingly, researchers have discovered that
children whose parents make frequent use of rewards tend to be less
generous than their peers. A child promised a treat for learning or
acting responsibly has been given every reason to stop doing so when
there is no longer a reward to be gained.
So a child might ask, "What do they want me to do and what will happen
to me if I don't do it?" or "What do they want me to do and what do I
get for doing it?" Neither approach helps a child to ask the question,
"What sort of person do I want to be?"
Rewards offered for achievement are little better. Again at least two
dozen studies have shown that people expecting a reward for completing a
task simply do not perform as well as those expecting nothing.
The reason? Well the main one is that rewards cause people to lose
interest in whatever they are being rewarded for. Also, control whether
by threats or bribes amounts to doing things TO children, rather than
working WITH them.
What's more, children who are encouraged to think about rewards become
less inclined to explore ideas, think creatively and take chances. At
least ten studies show that children offered rewards choose the easiest
possible task. In the absence of rewards children pick tasks just beyond
their current level of ability.
The implications of this research, is worrying.
If we ask "Do rewards motivate children?" the answer must be
"Absolutely, they motivate children to get rewards." But this,
unfortunately comes at the expense of interest, and excellence at,
whatever they are doing.
While it's natural to praise children for their efforts, this is
tantamount to verbal reward; praise can create a growing dependence on
securing some one else's approval. Desire for praise is only fulfilled
by doing something an adult wants.
What we need to do is to help children to develop inner enthusiasm and
their own criteria for successful learning. This must be grown from the
inside and any attempts to short-circuit the process, by dangling
rewards, is at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive.
Children are most likely to become enthusiastic, life-long learners we
provide for them a stimulation learning environment; a safe caring place
in which they can discover and create and have some choice about what
they are learning.
Barbara Fyles is an Early Years Education Consultant. At http://www.topkidz.co.uk you will discover easy to follow tips,
information and activities, specially designed to stimulate enthusiasm and the desire to learn, in young children.