Ever wish your students were more motivated? If you’re like most of us, you have tried an array of rewards and punishments to motivate kids. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t work. At least it doesn't work well enough. People (yes, even students) aren’t motivated from the outside so rewards and punishments only work to a point. We are internally motivated. That’s why it's essential to engage and inspire students to be motivated to succeed in school (and life.)

If you’re ready to move beyond the reward/punishment model and embrace a whole new way to understand motivation, I encourage you to come back regularly. It’s time to challenge the status quo and create schools and classrooms based on what really motivates behavior.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"What's So Wrong With Rewards?"

I recently received the following question: "I've read enough about Choice Theory to know I shouldn't use rewards in my home or classroom. But I've used them and they really seem to work. What’s so wrong with rewards?"

Here's what I answered: Rewards promote compliance, not responsibility. Adults like to talk about kids and their behavior, but let’s forget about the kids for a moment and consider what we want as parents and teachers. Rewards may entice kids into compliance, but there’s no evidence that they help kids internalize values and  promote self-control.  Consider these words from EJ Sobo, a professor at San Diego State University: “Children cultivated toward dependence on external praise through constant positive stroking are at risk for growing into poorly-adjusted adults who must always look to others for approval. They never have a chance to develop their own internal resources.” If you’re like me, you want kids to develop responsibility and be self-directed. Providing external rewards only distance us from what we say we want as parents and teachers.

If you’re satisfied with a quick fix and enjoy living from mini-crisis to mini-crisis, then rewards will work just fine. On the other hand, if you want to promote responsibility and self-control, it’s time to abandon the quick fix offered by rewards. Yes, it will take more time. It will force you to move from autopilot to genuinely engaging with kids. But if you have the will to stick with it, you’ll be a more effective and satisfied parent or teacher.

Note: This was originally published by Funderstanding. Their newsletter is free and includes interesting, useful ideas for both educators and parents. I encourage you to subscribe.

As always, if you enjoyed this and found it useful, please send the link to your friends. Thanks.

Bob Sullo

For information about books by Bob Sullo and to schedule a keynote, workshop, or series for your school, agency, or parent group visit www.internalmotivation.net

Don't forget to get your copy of the revised edition of The Inspiring Teacher: Making A Positive Difference In Students' Lives.


  1. Really ? That is totally new to me. I have always thought that giving rewards or appertaining others will give them chance and power to do more good. May be this have changed with the passage of time. As in ancient times, Kings always rewarded their soldiers for better work.

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