Why you should get rid of praise and rewards!

Why you should get rid of praise and rewards! 150 150 Jane Evans

Are rewards really about you?

When you offer a child a reward, or praise so as to get them to do, or not do something. Do you think it makes them happy? Or you? Well, in the short term it just might. But what about the long term? How will it impact your relationship with them, or the one they’ll develop with themselves. And what about their future desire to carry out the particular task, goal, or behaviour you’re seeking.

If you were told by your boss, “Be on time everyday next week, and I’ll buy you an ice cream”, what would you think?

  • They must really care about me as they know I’ll get more done if I’m  on time.
  • I really appreciate them offering me a reward for something I’m finding hard to do.
  • I love ice cream!
  • I’ll show you, I’m going to get a huge chocolate flaked, sprinkled, sauced up triple cone!
  • Easy…although I’m a tad anxious about doing it everyday.
  • Shove your ice cream I don’t need ANY extra pressure.

Does the offer of a reward show how they’ve thought about you as the parent, with 3 children to get out the door to school. Then a 30 minute journey through traffic to work, where there’s hardly ever anywhere to park, apart from the most difficult space imaginable! Or do they only care that you to get in on time?

How about if they came to you and said,

“How are you? What’s it like juggling so much before you even get here everyday? (They listen to your repsonse, empathise) Can I help you by looking at your start time as I’m worried it’s making work harder for you, and it’d be a benefit to the team if you aren’t under so much pressure first thing.”

Which would you prefer? Emotionless bribery that highlights your shortfall, but gets you an ice cream! Or a caring connection and willingness to help you do what you definitely want, and need to.

Same with being praised. What if they were there every morning as you skidded through the door with a “Well done you did it! I am so proud of you” would that feel great, embarassing, or irritating and patronising?

Is it any different for a child?

Research shows that rewarding or praising a child to modify a behaviour, may initially get them to do it or not do it. But it doesn’t last.

Alfie Kohn the researcher and author of, Unconditional Parenting (still one of my favourite books), explains it so well,

Rewards are no more helpful at enhancing achievement than they are at fostering good values. At least two dozen studies have shown that people expecting to receive a reward for completing a task (or for doing it successfully) simply do not perform as well as those who expect nothing (Kohn, 1993). This effect is robust for young children, older children, and adults; for males and females; for rewards of all kinds; and for tasks ranging from memorizing facts to designing collages to solving problems.

But how can a child learn right from wrong without praise and rewards?

From YOU! Your kindness. Your compassionate teaching. Children first learn, and continue to learn, by watching the key adults in their daily lives, and copying them. If you are calm, polite, can wait your turn, eat your food, refrain from pushing, bad mouthing others and show up as a pretty kind person. Then the children will try to model this.

Is that enough though, I hear you cry? There is more, because children’s brains are vastly under developed so they need micro-teaching moments with a calm, kind adult so their bodies and brains can take in what they are being shown, and taught. This is an ongoing repetitive process as you are building a child’s nervous system and their neural pathways, so it’s not for the faint hearted!

Where’s all the research?

I’m constantly being asked for the research. It often sends me diving onto Google, but then I think..No! Why do we demand the research in order to do what feels right and kind to, and with children.

Rewards are not kind. They are manipulative, controlling and disrespect the child’s emotional and physical needs. Praise goes the same route. They take us away from how the child actually feels right now and what we need to be doing so as to help them. The part of the brain that will eventually help to regualte their impulsive behaviours and emotions, won’t fully develop until at least their late 20’s so why not support it’s growth in a calm way.

Listen to me live on ITV This Morning exploring why not to bribe children.

Final thoughts

Get curious about why you are so wedded to the idea of rewarding and praising children. You may need to explore some uncomfortable truths about yourself. I certainly had to, in order to get over my own ego, to discover that praising my son was about my need to feel good, and my strong desire to ensure he definitely knew I was pleased with him! Which so often meant, I missed out on finding out how my son felt about his apparent success. At times it turned out he felt rubbish, or a bit underwhelmed, all of which I’d repeatedly missed.

Are there alternatives to praising and rewards?

Yes, but it requires embracing a whole new, more child-led, unconditional approach. A move away from a familiar reliance on reward, praise, and dishing out conseqences. I’d recommend starting with Alfie’s book, or at least his website as its packed with info.

Renowned clinical psychologist, and best-selling author Dr Shefali is crystal clear that so much of what traditional parenting relies on is about our egotistical needs, and not the child’s. Change starts with us moving away from seeking to control children, to being fully emotionally present with them. It’s about creating and sustaining lasting unconditional connections which accept all of them. And truly trusting that we can teach them with love and kindness.

If you are ready to really show up differently for your child’s needs, development and your relationship with them.

Drop me a message and we can explore how working with me can make that your lasting reality.

E: janeevans61@hotmail.co.uk



Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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