A class without stickers! Are you kidding me? Part I



First let me say that I like stickers. I think stickers are fun crazy and whimsical. I know many of you are tied to your stickers. I understand. Handing out stickers or other rewards has been a mainstay in children’s ministry for a long time. What I want to present in this post is how do you have a class without stickers or other rewards. I’m asking you to think about the reward system you are using and what you are trying to accomplish.

Is there really life after stickers?

Is it really possible to have a class where kids are in control and function without using a reward system? Is it really possible for kids to memorize scripture without getting a sticker?

Yes, I think there can be life after stickers. I think you’ll do more than just survive– I think you’ll find:

  • Enjoyment
  • Peace of mind
  • Relationship building
  • A general sense that the world and your class is an okay place to be

Not only can you experience all these perks, you can have an inner sense that you are impacting the life of a child in a way that will stay with them into their adult years.

Have you ever thought about the down side to reward systems?
Rewards are based on the adult’s judgment of what has happened. There are some kids that will never get a reward.

For some kids of divorce or kids in other crisis, just the stress of trying to figure this out or how to get the reward will send them to the lower level of the brain. Into the survival mode of the brain where they can’t think, rationalize or organize their thoughts enough to get the reward. Their brain doesn’t allow them to get the reward. It is like saying, “If you can produce more insulin, then  you can have a reward.” It is impossible to sit there and produce more insulin just like it’s impossible to expect some children to think about how to get a reward.

  • It’s almost always the same kids who don’t get the reward
  • If just once sweet little Susie who always does everything right doesn’t get the reward, you will have created a situation where her inner voice will berate her for a long time.
  • It is an external reward not an internal. In other words it doesn’t feel good under the skin and in the heart to get a reward.
  • The stickers and prizes have to get bigger and bigger and more expensive as time goes by and the kids get older
  • Can everyone be on his or her best behavior all the time? If God gave out stickers, there would certainly be a few days I wouldn’t get a sticker.

Other Control

Rewards, stickers, trinkets, gum, candy, stars, etc. all serve to create “other control” meaning the child does what YOU want him to do. In other words, things are conditional on how you the adult are judging them. Sometimes it might also be on your state of mind that day or your emotional health.

We should want kids to do things because

  • Of the intrinsic value
  • It feels good under the skin
  • It gives the heart a warm fuzzy feeling
  • It feels natural
  • It just feels like the right thing to do

When do rewards work?

GirlRewards work for mundane types of task or for short-term memory learning.

  • Learning the names of the kids in the class
  • Memorizing a short scripture
  • Remembering the words to a praise song.

Rewards work for the moment – but do the children really understand the “why’s” of what is happening. How long will they remember that scripture? Will they remember it next week? Is it lodged in their brain and in their hearts so that they hear God’s word in a crisis later in life?

By the way if a child is experiencing a family crisis or a trauma of some sort, they may not be able to memorize even short scriptures. It may be a short-term issue due to the stress they are under.

Many times we simply don’t realize how rewards / stickers are coming across to the child.

The bring your Bible to get a sticker

Following is a conversation that my friend, Carnisha, had with her daughter, Brianna, about taking her Bible to church.

Carnisha: How come you want to take your Bible to church?

Bree: So I can get a sticker.
Carnisha: But what’s the reason for taking your Bible?
Bree: To get a sticker!
Carnisha: What I mean is what’s the purpose of taking your Bible?
Bree: I told you, to get a sticker.
Carnisha: Let me put it this way, what do you do with your Bible at church?
Bree: Show it to my teacher so she will give me a sticker.
Carnisha: Why does your teacher want you to bring your Bible?
Bree: So she can give me a sticker.
Carnisha: Do you read out of the Bible or look at it?
Bree: I don’t remember. Once I get the sticker, I lay it down. I don’t remember what else we do with the Bible after I get my sticker.

Do you think there was any eternal significance for Brianna about taking her Bible to church? Do you think when Brianna is an adult, she will remember taking her Bible to church?

And what are we saying to Brianna about her Bible if we have to bribe her to bring it to church. Does the bribe imply the Bible’s not really important? If it was an important book wouldn’t everyone just want to bring it to church?

Rewards can create a flawed imagine of God
Do you want children to think God’s love is conditional?

  • Because if every time they come to church they are rewarded they quickly learn about conditional love in the very place they should learn about God’s unconditional love.
  • In the place where they should be learning about forgiveness
  • In the place where they should learn that Jesus died on the cross for their sins.
  • In the place where they should be learning about mercy and grace.

Larry Shallenberger in the article, “Stickers & candies & stars – oh my!” (Children’s Ministry Magazine July/August 2007) says when children are learning about God in a bribe-dependent environment, we can expect them to pick up the following false thoughts about God:

  • God is emotionally distant. Kids are less likely to learn to build a friendship with God when the focus is on bribes. In adulthood a child groomed on bribes sees God as impersonal dispenser and withholder of rewards rather than counselor and friend.
  • A relationship with God is transactional rather than dependent on grace. The message of the Cross is that friendship with God can’t be earned ­– it’s a free gift from God. Bribes contradict that reality.
  • Bribes promote a simplistic view of God’s justice and suffering. God gets reduced to a vending machine: Insert good behavior, receive blessings. Insert poor behavior, receive curses.

Stay tuned for Part II where we talk about using rewards systems for behavior issues

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  1. Pingback: Should You Give Kids Rewards for Good Behavior? (Weekend Reading) - Hope 4 Hurting Kids

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