The downside of using external rewards for children

I was talking to a class teacher about an 8 year old boy in his class whose parents have overly embraced the concept of using external rewards with the child to try and get him to change his behaviour, which can be aggressive and controlling towards other children and on occasion to school staff.

His mum has a variety of rewards, most of which cost money that she is offering him if he behaves at school such as going swimming, to McDonald’s, buying him games or sweets.

Whist the child has made some changes to his behaviour,  if he has been in trouble in the morning, especially before break time at school, he is now behaving in a challenging and disruptive way for the rest of the day and responding with comments such as ” I don’t need to do that now as I’m not going to get my game anyway.”

The danger with only using external rewards as a motivation for children to change their behaviour is that the child never learns self motivation or the benefits of internal rewards. It also means they are less responsive to praise and encouragement and have less sense of personal responsibility or the choices they make having consequences.

A more balanced approach using occasional external rewards rather than daily ones is more likely to result in a child developing an understanding of and a willingness to change their behaviour.

I would also suggest spending time with the parent wherever possible to try and determine the underlying causes of the child’s behaviour and identify what exactly the child is trying to tell us by their behaviour.

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