Encouraging Kids to Learn by Using the Rewards System Properly

People have divided opinions on using rewards, especially with kids. Some say it prevents children from developing internal motivation, reliance, and responsibility. 

Alfie Kohn, who wrote Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, said in an interview that the act of rewarding someone is a controlling technique that kills creativity and undermines risk-taking. 

Such a description can understandably raise concerns in some parents. But when you really think about it, our society is built on rewards. 

You persevere in studying to get high scores in exams. You work diligently to get a paycheck or promotion. Such rewards make up our motivation. They’re also essential for creating and attaining personal and professional goals.

The reward system has room in your parenting tool kit. You only need to research and implement them properly. 

Types of Motivation

Everyone needs the right kind of motivation to accomplish things. 

Knowing how motivation works is the key to better understand why children only do certain tasks without being prompted.

Motivation can be classified into types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

For Fun or Pleasure

Intrinsic motivation is when you do an activity because it is enjoyable and interesting. There is no need to get a prize or receive recognition for it, just like when your son plays video games or listens to music on Spotify. 

For an External Reward

Extrinsic motivation is fueled by an outside reward. A person does what is asked in anticipation of a positive outcome. You are extrinsically motivated when you do something you don’t inherently enjoy because you want the promised material reward.  

Children, though curious by nature, do not necessarily find learning fun. They need extrinsic motivation to study and do good in school.

Motivating Kids with External Rewards

There’s evidence that shows how external motivators can help students do better academically. When used at the right time, rewards help kids develop a greater interest in learning and build skills they may not have been able to do independently. 

So when should you consider using a reward to incentivize your children—without letting the practice become too much of a good thing? 

Here are some tips for rewarding young ones in ways that are healthy and effective in the long term.

Best Practice for Rewarding Children

1. Reward Learning with More Learning

Create a reward that has educational value. When thinking of ways to incentivize your little ones, consider rewards that will build upon the learning or skill they’re working toward. 

Suppose you want your seven-year-old daughter to read more. You can set a goal to finish three books over the winter break. When she succeeds, you can take her on a trip to the local bookstore, where she can pick out a new book she likes. 

2. Incentivize Your Children with Privileges and Choice

There are benefits to allowing kids to make choices daily. This practice results in greater autonomy, self-esteem, and cognitive development. Children have greater control over their own learning, boosting their confidence as students.

In that sense, making the privilege of greater choice a reward is a great strategy! 

Let’s say the school’s annual science fair is coming up next week. You can set a goal to reward your son if he finishes his project this weekend. If that Newton’s Cradle he’s working on is all done by Sunday, he can pick the destination for the next family outing. 

As far as rewards go, don’t use money all the time. Give your kids choices or extra family time doing their favorite activities to motivate them. Awarding fun ribbons and badges for a clean room or helping make dinner every night is a good idea too.

3. Pair Rewards with Words of Encouragement

Use extrinsic motivation (rewards), but make sure to back it up with intrinsic motivation. Take time explaining the task so that your kids understand why it’s important. Be generous with the words of encouragement while they work toward their goal.

Remember to praise the process, not the outcome. Never scold your children for failing to do a task correctly. Instead, acknowledge the hard work they put into doing it. 

When you praise a child for something they have control over, you are helping build their confidence. They will then start to believe that they will be capable of taking on bigger challenges.

4. Set SMART Goals 

Set appropriate goals by using the SMART approach.

A SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, and realistic.

If your child is having trouble with math, you can set a time-specific goal. For example, if they work on their homework for 25 minutes, they can take a five-minute break to do whatever they want.

Setting specific goals and routines like the example above will build your child’s internal resilience and motivation.

Dealing with Bad Behavior

Don’t turn to rewards if you’re trying to correct your kids’ bad behavior. Find out why they’re acting up. Is it a lack of expressive language skills to communicate? Do they feel anxious or unheard? 

Connecting with your child to determine the cause of bad behavior will be more effective than bribing them to be good all the time. 

Final Thoughts

Motivation is the force that drives us to accomplish life goals. Parents must understand what motivates kids to do things to encourage learning. Children are curious, but they will need the right reward to study and get good grades.

Setting goals that foster an appreciation for learning will benefit your child in the long run. The rewards don’t have to be monetary; they can be an experience or a favorite activity in which the whole family participates.

When done properly, extrinsic motivation will help develop autonomy and self-confidence in your young ones. They will pick up skills that will be useful as they grow into adulthood. 

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