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Rewards - Less is Best!

05 May 2014

Head of Primary, Niki Meehan, discusses whether rewarding children for academic performance is a good idea.

  • Rewards - less is best

Rewarding success is a deeply engrained habit for many parents and we all know that children can be made to do something they do not want to do by offering them rewards such as toys, sweets or money. Rewards can produce an immediate impact and so we can readily become addicted to them as a useful parenting tool. 

However, these extrinsic rewards can be a poisoned carrot and may actually have a negative impact on a child's achievement in the long term by creating a sense of entitlement or dependence. A child might work harder for rewards, but this can lead to them feeling like they are owed something for their efforts and can condition children to seek approval – they do things to impress instead of doing things for themselves. This rewards approach can also kill creativity and risk taking as some children will play safe, avoiding challenges in case of failure, and doing just enough to get the rewards.

Children actually benefit the most when they feel proud of their accomplishments and have an internal drive that motivates them to succeed. Instead of judgements and manipulations sanctioned by rewards, children need praise, acknowledgement and feedback that; provides specific information about what they have achieved; focuses on the effort and perseverance that led to the success; and highlights what their next goal might be. They need to be focussed internally on the pleasure they themselves derive from accomplishments in order to become self-regulated learners rather than crowd pleasers. This approach might take a bit more time, thought and parental involvement than a quick fix reward but it will have a long term impact. It fosters considered behaviour, promotes healthy self esteem and enhances intrinsic motivation that is essential for children to grow into engaged independent learners.

Rewards do have their place but less is best!  Rather than being promised in advance to manipulate behaviour, or guaranteed every time a child does something you like, they can and should be used more spontaneously to express our delight and appreciation of our children and the amazing things they do. 

- Niki Meehan, Head of Primary