Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rewards for good behaviour

Tonight on a message board I put together a reply to someone asking for advice on a financial reward system for good behaviour amongst boys aged 4, 6 and 8. For once I managed to put together a reply in under 2,000 words. Thought I'd copy it here to commemorate my succinctness:

As I see it, the reason kids whine and fight and generally behave poorly is because they are not able to see things from the perspective of others. They don't understand why sometimes their brother needs to have an extra 3 minutes with the Tonka truck or the video game, or that a nasty word or a nasty tone of voice hurts the feelings of a parent or sibling. In other words, young children may not have developed the empathy skills that allow them to see the world through the eyes of others, so they see it only from their own, self-centred perspective.

The ultimate, mature, well-socialized reason for good behaviour is that one cares about others and how one's behaviour impacts the rest of the world. The problem with rewards, IMO, is that they put the focus firmly back on the child's selfish desires. The message becomes "don't hit your brother, because missing your reward will hurt you" rather than "don't hit your brother, because it hurts him." Rewards reinforce concern with the self, rather than promoting concern for the other.


  1. Charlene Markovic6:46 am

    WoW! You sure hit it home with the ending! Great post!

  2. I totally agree. We are dealing with this in our house right now. Rewards and consequences stop being effective if they are they are the only thing making the kids behave and treat each other with respect.
    (I'm off to read that board now)

  3. That. Is. An excellent clarification. I think Alfie Kohn should read *your* explanation as to why rewards don't work!

  4. I a point. Rewards seem to work with some children for behavior modification, but it has to be done right and subtly.

    I know I have over used rewards with my youngest child when I rarely used them with my others (big age gap between them) and we have created a bit of a monster who often EXPECTS has taken deliberate efforts to reverse that work. But I do know that ADHD children seem to have success with it **shrug** Overall, I think what you have said is a great point of view and a safe stance to take when dealing with children overall.


This blog is moving to archive-only status. Please consider posting comments instead at the active version of the blog at

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.