Rewards versus Paychecks

When it comes to the topic of using extrinsic rewards with children (such as money or stickers), people often say it’s okay because it’s the same thing as an adult getting a paycheck at the end of the week.

In reality, it’s very different.

Employment is a social contract. A person (the employee) provides a service, and in return the employer gives remuneration. The only thing a fee for service has in common with rewards (as acknowledgments or as incentives) is that they both MAY involve legal tender. When was the last time you looked at your paycheck and thanked your employer for the reward?

Additionally, would you go to work every day if you didn’t get paid? If you need the money to live on (as most people do), you likely wouldn’t. If your employer doesn’t hold up their end of the contract, you don’t hold up yours. Yet, you may volunteer with an organization you believe in because you want to support its mission. No one gives you a paycheck to do this—you do it because in your mind it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t you want children to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do? Or, should they only do what’s right, such as be kind to others, brush their teeth, or even stop at red lights, just because they receive a reward? Of course not. That’s not how society works. And that’s why rewards do nothing to teach children the self-discipline they need to succeed or the value of intrinsic motivation.