The Problem with Rewards

When our kids were young, I remember more than a few occasions when I’d asked them to do something and they’d respond, “What will we get if we do it?”

On a good day, I’d say something like, “The pleasure of knowing you helped out,” or, “A pat on the back.” At the end of a long day, my response sounded more like,  “Nothing!” They groaned a bit, but after a while they got used to it and then didn’t really ask anymore.  (OK, occasionally they’d give it the good old college try. And, OK, occasionally maybe I gave in and gave them a reward.) But I wanted my kids to understand that you don’t do something with the expectation of getting something back.  You do something because it is the right thing to do.

Today my husband was telling me that the middle school where he works is raising money for leukemia research.  “That’s so kind!” I said.  

“It is.  And the homeroom that raises the most money get’s a pizza party.”

A prize.  Why do we offer children a reward for raising money to save the lives of people who are dying from a horrible disease?  Isn’t the “reward” the fact that you are helping others?  If we offer a prize, aren’t we sending the wrong message?  Aren’t we saying that it’s not enough to do something because it’s right, but that you also need to get something for yourself?  This just seems all wrong to me.  A colleague of mine recently said that she thinks that kindness might have to involve some sort of sacrifice.  I think I agree.

How can we show children (and adults) that being kind is about giving, not getting.  And the truth is, you do get something back: The pleasure of knowing you helped out.





5 thoughts on “The Problem with Rewards

    1. I LOVE this video. I am making it my Slice tomorrow (our last day of the challenge). It says so much of what I want to say in this world. Thank you so much for being such a great writing partner. You have really inspired me in so many ways.

  1. I have worked to get away from even the smallest rewards in my classroom to encourage more intrinsic motivation. I have to say I have seen glimmers of improvement. The world does not reward us for anything. The sooner kids can find their own purpose and bliss, the more chance they have at a fulfilled life! Cheers to your slice.

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