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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


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 child.

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 you will discover easy to follow tips, information and activities, specially designed to stimulate enthusiasm and the desire to learn, in young children.

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