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Why bribing kids with rewards doesn’t work

Here’s what to do instead.

Why bribing kids with rewards doesn’t work

Offering rewards or incentives to your child can be so tempting in moments of desperation. This is because rewards can often help you get what you want…in the short-term.


But do rewards help motivate children in the long term? No. In fact, they hurt motivation.

Why don’t rewards work?

Rewards undermine intrinsic motivation

Children are born intrinsically motivated. No one offers a baby a reward or bribe so that he’ll want to learn to crawl. No one offers a 3-year-old an incentive to be interested in why the sky is blue or how plants grow. No one has to because people are born curious and driven to work hard to develop their minds and bodies.

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People are naturally motivated from within.

Offering rewards can actually take away from this beautiful natural motivation by making a child want to do something for you rather than for himself.

For example, say Johnny naturally enjoys raking leaves. It’s a great chance to be outside and use his big muscles and accomplish a useful task, which feels good. But maybe one day you ask him and he says “no” because he’s busy building with blocks. You have company coming over and you really want the leaves raked, so you offer him a reward, maybe candy or extra screen time, for doing it. The leaves get raked and Johnny is happy because he got an extra 30 minutes on the iPad. Everyone wins, right?

But what about next time? Your child may no longer want to rake leaves for the joy of it. Now he expects a reward. He is now extrinsically motivated.

This is not only a small annoyance—now you have to stockpile candy or rake the leaves yourself—it is a fundamental change in how a child sees work.

Intrinsically motivated children work hard because they enjoy a challenge, they want to learn how to do new things, and they enjoy the sense of satisfaction that comes from contributing to the community.

Extrinsically motivated children do things for others’ praise or to get a prize. This mindset can follow a child into adulthood, so it is important to support their natural intrinsic motivation while they’re young.

It turns out rewards don’t work for adult behavior either, as habit and human nature expert Gretchen Rubin writes about here. For both children and adults, rewards only work in the short term.

Rewards diminish an activity’s value

Telling your child that you’ll give him something to complete a task implies that the task is somehow unpleasant or not inherently valuable.

For example, “You can pick out a toy from the toy store if you turn in your homework every day for a month” implies that the homework is not worth doing for its own sake.

Interesting studies have been conducted around this effect in schools. In her book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Lillard discusses the science of motivation. She seeks scientific data comparing the traditional schools’ reward-based grading system with Montessori schools, which emphasize intrinsic motivation and often do not give grades.

Among others, Lillard cites Mark Lepper’s study of 3-5 year olds which tracked how offering rewards impacted their interest in coloring with markers. One group of children was offered a reward (a fancy gold star plaque) for coloring and the other group was offered nothing. The reward group was found to use the markers only half as much as the group that was not rewarded a few weeks later.

Offering a reward implies that an activity is unpleasant or not inherently valuable on its own, hence the need for the reward.

Rewards ignore the underlying issue

Offering a reward for a desired behavior ignores the underlying reason that a child is refusing. For example, a parent might think, “My child refuses to read, I’ll give him a sticker for each book he reads.”

This type of system fails to ask why the child doesn’t like to read. Maybe he doesn’t have any books that interest him and he would love a book about dinosaurs. Maybe the books he’s being asked to read are too challenging (or not challenging enough!). Maybe he would enjoy reading more if you were sitting next to him reading too or he would enjoy being read to.

If your child is refusing to do something, there is generally a reason why, and offering a reward can prevent you from discovering what that reason is.

So if rewards don’t work, what can you do instead?

Connect

Children are always more willing to do what you ask if they feel connected, just like you’re most likely more willing to go above and beyond for a boss you feel connected to.

Make time to connect and play. If your child refuses to get ready to leave the house every morning, try waking him up 15 minutes earlier and snuggling or reading books together. Try connecting before demanding.

Ask why?

Depending on your child’s age and temperament, you may be able to ask him directly why he is refusing to do something, or you may need to observe him and try to decipher the reason yourself.

His refusal may have a direct link to the task (i.e., his shoes are really tricky to put on and he gets frustrated) or it may be about something else (he’s too tired to clean his room at night and it would work better to ask him on a Saturday morning).

Figuring out the reason for the refusal will help you address the underlying cause of his behavior.

Offer help

Whether a child actually needs help or not, showing solidarity and offering to help may encourage his willingness to participate. Often, offering help and being present are enough.

You might say, “That homework sounds tricky. I’m going to sit at the table with you while you do it so you can ask me questions if you need to.”

Or with a younger child who often refuses to pick up toys, it might be, “Wow, there are so many toys on the floor, this looks like a two person job. I’ll put the dolls away, what are you going to start with?”

Many of us grew up receiving rewards and incentives for good behavior and it can be second nature to use them with our own children. It’s worth trying these other tools, though, to protect your child’s innate sense of self-motivation.

Offering rewards just leads children to seek more rewards, while connecting and reflecting on behavior can achieve long-term results.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

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