Are Rewards Good or Bad?

As I was relaxing this evening after another very long day at school, contemplating the special challenges of this year's students, I came across this article:  The Day "Reward" Became a Bad Word. 

I thought it was a great, thought provoking article, and something I've thought about many times. 

Children should want to do the work we give them.  They should have pride in what they do, and want to do well. 

But they don't.

When I first started teaching, they did.  But they don't.

When I was little, I did the work because I feared the consequences... the wrath of the nuns.  When I got older, I did the work because I took pride in myself and wanted to do well.  When I was in college, I did the work because I wanted to get a job when I graduated.

But not kids nowadays.  They expect rewards.  They expect stickers, toys, or treats.  They want to get rewarded for doing the things children are expected to do, for doing what they're supposed to do.

I wish so much we didn't have to give in to this.  I wish kids did their best simply because that's what they wanted to do.  I wish kids wanted to behave, and made the effort to behave, simply because they wanted to.

But kids want to be rewarded.  As I've mentioned in some other blogs, I reward mine with beanie babies.  They get to keep one on their desk for the day.  For something really, really great, they get to keep a flag on their desk. 

I do avoid the big rewards.  You know, the ones that cost money and time.  I just don't have money or time.  I give them beanies. 

How do you feel about rewards?  Do you reward your students?



  1. I am totally against giving rewards for expected behaviours. I had a boy last year who would refuse to do any work unless he was given a 'prize'. His previous (grade 1) teacher had told me that he used to give him rewards everyday because that was the only way he could manage his tantrums and get him to do any work! So, I cut them out totally for the whole class. Did I have tantrums, swearing, kicking chairs, tears, screaming? Yes, but only for a few weeks - it did get worse before it got better - but he was soon demonstrating the expected behaviours and doing his work without expecting anything for it - the way it should be!

    Down Under Teacher

  2. This is a great post! This is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. This year I decided to do away with rewards. While it is working, for the most part, I still have times that I want to reward them. This has been a goal of mine this year, to hold them responsible because it is expected. Times are definitely not like they used to be, and it is sad that we often give in to rewarding students for what should be expected.

  3. Congratulations, Kylie, I know it's not easy!


  4. Thanks so much for the comment, Cooperative Learning! I wish I could do away with rewards, I'd much rather teach the kids to take pride in their work. That's a far more valuable lesson that teaching them to do it for a treat of some sort!


  5. I have a few different views on this. The first thing that pops to mind is we shouldn't reward students for demonstrating correct behavior, however, now to compare a student to a dog, but we are "training" our students much like when we "train" dogs we give them a treat to know they did something right.I try not to overdo awards, however I do still have them. Another thing that pops into my head is, as adults we are rewarded as well- if we stop at the red light, we won't get a ticket, if we go to work we will get paid, etc. Some students need to reward as a reminder that yep, you're doing it right. I have sticker charts that I give my students, I give "random" stickers, so the kids never know when I'll call on them for a sticker. After their chart is full they get a little toy from my treasure box. Sometimes the kids will say "but I'm doing the right thing, why don't I get a treat?" and I'll say "you don't ALWAYS get a treat for doing the right thing, just sometimes, like when you eat dinner, you don't always get dessert but sometimes mommy will give you a cookie if you eat all your vegetables." It usually works and I definitely have had far fewer "what about me?" moments.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Shana Nicole. These are very valid points!


  7. Your caution is definitely warranted. Giving rewards can be a lazy way to attempt to motivate someone. However, it greatly depends on what one means by "reward". A "reward" can be anything from a high five, a hug, an exclamation of great job, a form of recognition, or a tangible gift. In our home, we don't do gifts, we do money, for work that we prearranged was worth doing money. If I agree with my child that job X is worth $1 to me and they do it, it's not a reward any more than me being paid to work is.

    When they were first learning to shower, or brush their teeth there was a reward of some type attached to it. Once they "graduated" on that skill, now it's an every day part of life and they no longer receive awards. If they do something incredibly nice for someone they don't get a gift, but I certainly recognize them with my love and appreciation.

    Rewards should never cross the line into bribery to get a stubborn kid to obey. If they don't obey, they are punished in some way that reinforces the behavior you want to teach. But, teaching them to earn money by their hard work, or earn the respect and appreciation of others by their actions, either of which could be a "reward", is appropriate and an important part of helping them grow into healthy adults.

    This topic is exactly why I created, and the badges they can earn there, in my opinion, help reinforce good behavior and "reward" effort without spoiling a child.

    1. Thanks so much, Brian for your thoughtful comments! I can see you understand the need to motivate, but not spoil children. It's a fine line!



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