Why You Should Never Reward Good Behavior

reward good behavior

Many teachers and parents reward good behavior in students with stickers, prizes, and even food. I see this occur at schools, at homes, and especially out in public.

Do you routinely reward good behavior? If so, I urge you to stop the practice today. Why? Offering rewards is a behavior modification approach to mold desirable behavior directly—without rooting it in ethical behavior, such as whether the behavior is right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust, moral or immoral. This approach operates at the lowest level of moral judgment, which is that behavior is good because it is rewarded.

When I speak with parents and teachers, I often hear the stories of regret in terms of rewards. The narrative goes like this: Parents and teachers reward good behavior (again, a manipulative behavior modification approach) when the children are young, and then as the children grow older, the adults see the difficulties this practice creates. Unfortunately, since the system of rewards is mandated in some schools, such as those that use PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), the teachers feel unable to stop the practice.

Challenges that Occur When You Reward Good Behavior

So what are the difficulties? Rewarding expected appropriate behavior inevitably leads to selfish behavior. It prompts a mindset of “What’s in for it for me?”—without any consideration for others or for their long-term negative effects.

A major reason that I continue to my work—the speaking, writing, and publishing on this topic—is to share with teachers and parents a more effective approach for promoting responsibility, which is the foundational characteristic of our society.

This topic of why you should not reward good behavior is so important that I have devoted a chapter to it in every book I have written. You can see it in my newest book, Live Without Stress: How to Enjoy the Journey. The book demonstrates how to manage your stress and improve effectiveness—both professionally and personally. The key to this amazingly successful approach is in using authority without coercion and understanding the brain-body connection.