Spoilt Rotten: 3 Mistakes you Make when Rewarding your Child


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Parenting is hard. You are basically guiding a tiny human through this crazy, confusing world without any guidance yourself. And if you are a new parent, everything you do feels all the more like a shot in the dark.

When it comes to rewarding our children, it is a whole new ball game altogether. Creating an effective rewards system is deceptively challenging; many of us run the risk of overdoing our rewards to the point where we end up spoiling our children.

How do you know if your rewards system is turning your child into a spoilt brat? These are some signs you can look out for:

1. When rewards turn into bribes

We’ve all been there: Your little one screams “I hate you!” in the supermarket (with onlookers judging your parenting skills or lack thereof) because you wouldn’t buy him/her ice cream until you relent and buy the pint to make the tantrum stop.

If you find yourself ‘rewarding’ your child to stop misbehaviour, i.e. when you say something like, “I will buy you the ice cream if you stop crying,” it likely a bribe.

Here’s what to do instead:

Set expectations for your child before any event where you anticipate a meltdown or temper tantrum. For instance, you can prime your child to expect a reward if he/she plays by your rules. Making sure you communicate these rules and rewards clearly early on will effectively teach your child how to respect your rules and will teach them the value of earning privileges.

Remember, while ‘bribing’ is oh-so satisfying and convenient in the moment, in the long run, it only serves to make your child feel a sense of entitlement and continue exhibiting inappropriate behaviour.

2. Over-rewarding achievements

Like bribing, rewarding your child for their achievements is only effective in the short run:

You tell your child that every time they get an A grade for a test, you will buy him/her a game or gadget or even give him/her a monetary incentive. And true enough, your child studies hard and achieves the A-grade.

You think to yourself, that was easy. However, as the days go by, you notice that the motivation to work hard has dipped. In fact, your child may even start demanding bigger rewards for good grades!

Here’s what to do instead:

As seen in the above scenario, giving your child excessive rewards exclusively based on their achievements tends to backfire as it fails to cultivate the intrinsic motivation to work harder for their successes.

Instead, teach your child how to appreciate their achievements without a material prize. You can try other ‘rewards’ like giving them words of affirmation or appreciating their efforts with an excited praise or even displaying their report card on the fridge.

Making them feel proud of their successes will teach them the value of education and hard work. In the long run, this sense of pride will develop their intrinsic motivation to achieve their goals.

Rewarding something they already enjoy doing

This is also known as the ‘overjustification effect.’ Research has shown that when parents offer an extrinsic reward for actions their children already find internally rewarding, children will be less intrinsically motivated to continue performing that action!

For instance, if your child already enjoys helping around the house, and you reward him/her for it on top of that, you might be responsible for diminishing the joy they derive from this good behaviour. The more you reward your child for helping you with the chores, the less likely he/she will want to help you to begin with.

Here’s what to do instead:

Pay attention to what your child already enjoys doing – take note of these actions and remind yourself not to give them material rewards for exhibiting positive behaviour, as tempting as it may be. Instead, you can reinforce their positive behaviour with words of encouragement as an indicator of your appreciation for them.

A good rewards system teaches skills for a lifetime.

At the end of the day, a holistic rewards system encourages children to have a sense of discipline, be goal-oriented and be intrinsically motivated. While every parenting journey comes with its own set of challenges, implementing a good rewards system may be all it takes to crack the code to raising a child right.

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