Oftentimes when you ask for child behavior advice you will see suggestions on things like rewards or sticker charts to help incentivize the behavior you wish to encourage. As an example, people using MMs to reward toddlers during potty training or a sticker chart to show when a toddler follows their sleep rules. But I’m here to tell you that rewards and sticker charts just don’t work. They will not end with the results we want with our kids, both in the short term and the long term.
Rewards rely on fear.
I know this sounds harsh, but it is true. We often see rewards as incentives – incentives to do the right thing, follow the rules. But the thing is, instead of providing an incentive to our kids they rely on fear – the fear of not getting something if they happen to not meet expectations.
Rewards don’t teach responsibility.
When parents rely on rewards to get their children to comply, they are not helping to teach their kids to develop a sense of responsibility. Or about doing good because it is good to do. Kids learn instead to do things to please their parents, or to get the desired reward.
What we end up finding is that kids who are rewarded for their behavior don’t learn from their own mistakes (besides the fact that they don’t get a reward if they do wrong).
Kids will also do what they are told by their parents, not because they internally believe that it is the right thing to do, but because they know that there is a reward waiting at the end.
Rewards need to get bigger or lose their shine.
Oftentimes using rewards or sticker charts will seem to produce great results to begin with. Kids will start complying and demonstrate the behavior that was being sought, but this generally doesn’t last. Kids will want bigger rewards to continue to comply. Essentially rewards and sticker charts don’t produce lasting results and they don’t affect a kid’s beliefs. They don’t start to think about why they should change their behavior and how said behavior affects the world around them.
And here is a question for you: Once your kids get too old for sticker charts or cheap dollar store toys, what will you need to offer them to get them to do things? Chances are it will be big and costly or they won’t consider it worth their while.
So, what do you do instead of rewards?
Instead of offering a reward e.g. a piece of candy to complete homework, encourage them. Let them know that they can do it. Celebrate steps along the way to fully changing their behavior. Kids get encouraged by their small successes to get to the bigger long term goal.
Role model behavior you want to change.
When kids see us acting in the way we are asking them to it helps. If we want them to see our healthy sleep – we can show them that we make those same choices for ourselves.
Or if our children are having trouble with fighting each other we can role model how to solve problems instead of just offering rewards for a fight free day. Get down with them and help them sort out their arguments together. This will help them be able to do it for themselves next time.
Get them involved around the house early on.
It isn’t uncommon for parents to reward for chores or room tidying. It can help to start getting them involved early on – at an age when they are excited to help. 2-year-olds often love to sweep alongside parents or help unload a dishwasher. Embrace it.
I hope this helps you understand why rewards don’t work and how to chose different ways to gain your child’s cooperation in different aspects of your life- whether it be chores, sleep or just day to day behavior. Rewards and sticker charts can seem appealing, but there are better ways.
If you need more individualized help, please don’t hesitate to reach out for your own consultation. I’d be happy to help!