Perks & Pitfalls of a Rewarded Life

By: Roshanda Pratt

Who doesn’t like getting a pat on the back or hearing a job well done?  As a mom, it seems like I spend a great deal of time applauding my children for their good deeds.  I do not mind because I firmly believe a child with a high self-esteem and self-worth translates into an adult who is a benefit to their friends, family and community. However, I have recently been wondering if we give too many “rewards” for the sake of making sure children feel appreciated? And is this practice really damaging?

Here is my case: I have a 2 year-old boy, a 5 year-old girl and a 6 year-old girl. All three attend school. Yes, even the 2 year-old goes three days a week.  All three are rewarded and recognized for “good” behavior at the end of the week. For example, when the 6 year-old keeps all her M&M’s at the end of the week she can make a trip to the treasure box.  I understand it is a way to teach the benefit of following the classroom rules and being a good citizen in school.  I believe that in those early years with our children we should teach them about both the good and bad consequences of their decisions. However, here is my quandary:  When are rewards just too much?  I have found lately that my children want a “treat,” as they call it, for everything.

Rewards“Mommy, I cleaned up my room. Can I get a treat?”

“Mommy, I kept all my M&M’s. Can I get a treat?”

“Mommy, I just shared with my brother. Can I get a treat?”

My husband has never been a huge fan of this practice because it creates an expectation that they MUST be rewarded or celebrated for everything they do, even if what they do should be expected. At first when the girls started school, I bought into this practice of rewarding their behavior for every activity. I can remember when it started.  It started with potty training.  We adopted the Dora the Explorer attitude.  “Yay, You Did It!” I encouraged with words of affirmation and gifts of celebration.  Now, fast forward to the present. After years of rewards, we are teaching our children that the best reward is the knowledge that you did the right thing.  As you can imagine this does not go over well with the 5 year-old who is particular to celebration.  I guess old habits die hard.

I really started thinking about this in terms to our world.  How many times this week did you receive a pat on the back? Or receive a “reward” for a job well done? My pastor recently said something that really resonated with me.  He said we are parenting mini adults.  What we set up now will be what they live out as an adult. That is a sobering thought.  Recently, while my 5 year-old practiced writing her letters, she started crying and really needed some reinforcement.  I encouraged her but I realized quickly she wanted me to say that if she did the work she would receive a reward.  My husband picked up on this too and told her she is not always going to be celebrated or given a reward to do what she needs to do.  Isn’t that life? Our job as parents is to prepare our children for life.  In life you may be picked last for the dodge ball game, in life you will get an “A” on a project but your teacher may not give you an additional reward, and in life, when you take care of responsibilities like cleaning the kitchen or paying your bills, you may not get a reward each and every time.

Here is the bottom line:  I have learned how to prioritize the reward system.  I have often reminded the girls that sometimes the best reward is being proud for making a good decision.  Rewards like candy, a little toy or gold stars are all good, but the best reward is when you know in your “knower” you have done the right thing and that is reward enough!

What do you think? Do you reward your children every time they do something well? Do you think the “rewards” system is setting our children up for failure?

Ro 🙂

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