Do rewards work?

by | May 22, 2020

Rewards are a topic I’m asked about a lot.  They are used throughout society as way of encouraging people to take certain actions, and as we know they are an age old parenting strategy. 

The problem with them is that they don’t always change the behaviour in the longer term.  They might stop it in the short term, but if you’re not dealing with the underlying reason for the behaviour it will reappear when the reward stops.  

As parents, we want to help our children and reduce any challenging behaviours, as well as help them to manage their own emotions, so rewards seem like a good option.  Let’s be honest, they are also a relatively easy option and one I know I’ve used sometimes.  I’ve been known to say ‘once you’ve had a shower you can use the xbox‘ – although they maybe more bribery!

As a general rule I advise parents against using rewards because it’s easy to believe they are working to solve the problem.  However, with some parents we have started to use them in very careful ways to ease flash points and to enable conversations to take place to help understand the underlying reasons for the behaviour.  Once these conversations are happening you can support your child with their difficulties and work together to resolve them.  This then reduces the need for the reward.

I’m very cautious in saying this, because I believe the two must be done together, but it is helping in some situations.

Rewards by themselves can be shaming and reduce self confidence.  If you don’t feel you are good enough to achieve the reward, whatever it may be, then you may ensure you don’t receive it by sabotaging it.  Many of us will have experienced that, either ourselves, or with our children.  

When you are continually not achieving the reward, that then feeds into the negative narrative in your head that you can’t achieve them / don’t deserve them.  This then becomes a self fulfilling prophesy and your mind will do what it can to ensure you don’t. 


If you have seen this with your child here are some tips to help change that narrative:

* use reconciliation gestures to show your child you love them irrespective of their behaviour

* be careful with your words around your child – the hear and believe the words you use, so try and use positive language

* don’t use rewards they have to work towards

* raise your presence and build connection

* use indirect praise – it can be an easier way to hear praise


You can also use these on yourself.  So many of us as parents have negative self talk, thinking about the words we use for ourselves can be hugely impactful. 


If you’d like help and support directly from me, whenever you want it, on topics like this why not come and join me in the Connective Parenting Hub?  It’s my membership group where you can access training videos and resources, we have weekly sessions to ask me any questions and a wonderfully supportive facebook group.  It’s just £15 a month and you get instant access as soon as you join.