A class without stickers or rewards! 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 and  rewards. I understand. Handing out 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 can hear some of you now, “A class without stickers or rewards? Are you kidding me?” No, I’m not kidding  you.

I’m asking you to think about what you are trying to accomplish by using a reward. Let’s look at the down side to reward systems.

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 situations, just the stress of trying to figure out how to get the reward will send them to a panic. They slide into the survival mode of the brain where they can’t think, rationalize or organize their thoughts enough to get the reward. You might as well say, “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 and she will wonder, “What is wrong with me” instead of the fact that perhaps she is just having a bad day.
  • 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. How about you?

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.

We should want kids to do things because

  • Of the intrinsic value
  • 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 scriptures. It may be a short-term issue due to the stress they are under.

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.

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



This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on March 20, 2015.

DC4K blog posts are great for training children’s leaders and volunteers, and they are free. Subscribe now.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community?

Did you know DC4K blog articles are on Pinterest? Divorce & Kids, Children’s Pastors, Single Parents, they’re all there.

Follow dc4kLinda on Twitter.

Like our DivorceCare for Kids and Single & Parenting Facebook pages where we give awesome parenting tips for the single parents in your ministries.


2 thoughts on “A class without stickers or rewards! Are you kidding me? Part I

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

  2. Pingback: DC4K » A class without stickers or rewards! Are you kidding me? Part II

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.