A class without stickers or rewards! Are you kidding me? Part II




In Part 1 of “A class without stickers and rewards” we presented the downside to rewarding children and how rewards created “other control.” Today, let’s examine how many people use various reward systems for behavior issues. Sometimes we think handing a reward to each child that behaves will encourage the out of control kids to think about their behavior. The problem is most kids who misbehave are struggling with some type of issue. It is beyond their thinking capabilities to figure out what they need to do in order to get the reward others are getting.

Let’s take a look at using rewards, (stickers) for behavior issues. When a child has non-compliant behaviors or unruly behaviors what is your intent for handing out a reward?

When your intent  is to punish and manipulate so you can force the child to act right in the group.

When your intent is to punish and or manipulate to get the behavior you want, it looks something like the following.

  • You want to make a child feel bad or hurt so they will comply. You call that child out by not giving them a reward.
  • You focus on bribes and intimidation to get the child to act right. “If you acted right, you’d get a sticker like everyone else.”
  • You expect the child to “just know” what to do. “He comes every week. He should know we do our bible drills first.”
  • You expect the child to “get it right” every time. “You knew our greeting rituals last week. You should know how to do it by now?”
  • You focus more on what the child didn’t do. (And by the way, you always get more of what you focus on.)
  • Your interactions are usually hurtful to the child and sometimes to yourself.

When your intent is to discipline and disciple a child, the emphasis is completely different.

  • You teach and model the behaviors you want. Rewards are not handed out to a few who behave.
  • You are consistent every week.
  • Your interactions with the child is based on love.
  • You focus on cooperation. “That was helpful Paul when you picked up the trash.” And it is said only to Paul, not so the entire group can hear.
  • You have clear expectations of what is expected. “If you forget what comes next, it’s okay, just look at the schedule here on the wall.”
  • You introduce solutions when there is a confrontation. “Chase, you wanted the markers so you hit Skyler. When you want the markers say, ‘Skyler, I want the markers.'”
  • You interactions are helpful to the child and to you the adult or other adults in the group.

What punishment and reward systems don’t teach

  • Punishment and reward systems don’t teach the child what happens as a result of their noncompliance. The child just knows what they did was wrong.
  • They don’t teach or create self-control in children.

The focus becomes on what to do to please the adult in the situation.

  • When children rely on adult’s judgment day in and day out they come to depend on the judgment of others as a basis for their own moral decisions. In other words, they don’t learn from their mistakes.
  • The child only learns to focus on the adult that didn’t give them the sticker. The anger is directed toward the adult and not on what the child did do or didn’t do to get a sticker or reward.
  • They grow up trying to figure out what others want from them. “How do I please everyone around me?”

This will be the girl that gives into the pressure in the back seat of a car or the boy that gets into drugs simply because he has no moral code of his own. They do what others want them to do because they don’t know how to think for themselves.

When children are allowed to experience the consequence of their choices, good or bad, or they are allowed to make a mistake and be responsible for the mistake, then they can begin to connect the dots. In other words when a child can see the connection between their behavior and the result of that behavior, then learning has occurred.

Rewards and the brain

  • The brain works best when it feels safe.
  • It operates differently when there is a perceived threat. Keep in mind a perceived threat is simply that – the child’s perception.
  • When under threat of either not obtaining the reward, the brain reacts with increased blood flow and electrical activity in the brain stem, the survival part of the brain, the freeze, fight, fight part of the brain.
  • When the brain is in the survival mode it becomes less capable of planning, pattern-detection, organizing or learning. It is all about my survival and me.
  • The survival brain is reactive and fast. It doesn’t have time to figure out how to act in order to get a reward.

What are your expectations?

  • Do you want a classroom full of children that only do something to please you the adult?
  • Do you want a group of children that are learning for themselves?
  • Do you want a group of children who only come to church to please you?
  • Or do you want children to come to church because they truly want to worship and learn more about God and Jesus Christ?

Think about doing celebrations

Instead of bribing with rewards think about doing celebrations instead. A reward is essentially a bribe, “If you bring your Bible every week, you’ll get a treat.” The child brings their Bible in order to get the treat. Instead of handing out stickers or treats for the children that bring their bibles to church, what if the leader said, “Let’s celebrate reading God’s word today. Three kids brought their Bibles. Who wants to be the first to read today’s verse out of their very own Bible?”

  • A celebration is something that marks the occasion.
  • A celebration is done to celebrate an accomplishment.
  • They are festive, a party of sorts and a way to praise what has been achieved.
  • It shouldn’t be announced before hand. It just is.

If you feel you will need to detox from giving out stickers, candies and stars, then hand them out to everyone in class just because.

There are so many things to celebrate

  • Celebrate the birth of Christ.
  • Celebrate Easter and the risen Savior.
  • Celebrate spring and new life.
  • Celebrate fall and the changing of colors in nature.
  • Celebrate new friends that have come to class.
  • Celebrate when someone brings a new friend to class.
  • Celebrate answered prayers.
  • Celebrate when a child comes to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

Celebrations can bring joy and happiness to the group, not intimidation to some children because they can’t be good enough!



This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on March 19, 2015.

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

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

  2. I’m sorry, but I disagree with the idea that it’s wrong to reward good behavior or a job well-done. Rewards are not bribes. “Rewards are earned for good behavior, bribes are offered to avoid or stop bad behavior.”
    As a children’s pastor I gave rewards and I did so because it is a biblical principle:
    “Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.”
    ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:24‬ ‭NLT‬‬
    “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!”
    ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬
    “Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward.”
    ‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬
    Dozens of other scriptures challenge us to seek rewards.
    “Then at last everyone will say, “There truly is a reward for those who live for God; surely there is a God who judges justly here on earth.””
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭58:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

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