Rewards and Consequences

I’ve been reading Boundaries with Kids by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. This book is packed with great ideas related to how making good choices leads to children who grow up healthy and with great character. I came across a good section on rewards. This affects me not only as a parent, but also as someone who serves kids weekly at our church.

I’ll quote:

A mom told me recently that she had told her son to do something minimal like take out the trash, and his reply was “What will you give me?” She asked me what a good reward would be. I told her to tell him that she would give him a very hard time if he didn’t do what she asked. She looked at me funny, but we had an interesting discussion about rewards and punishment.

We believe in rewards for these two things:

  1. Acquiring new skills
  2. Performing exceptionally

We do not believe in rewards for these:

  1. Doing the age-appropriate requirements of civilized people (such as living skills)
  2. Doing what is expected (such as work)

You’ll have to read the chapter for the fleshing out of these ideas, but I think they provide a grid I’ve been looking for regarding rewards.

There are usually two camps on rewards. One is that rewards are bad and the other is that rewards are good. That always seemed too simplistic to me. This framework of when rewards are good and when they are not is more useful than picking a side.

Consider this example they give:

We reward a two-year-old for learning potty training, not an adult for being able to continue it.

Sometimes in church, kids will show disrespect by not listening to their leader. Should a reward be given when respect is shown or should it be expected? I think generally, it should be expected, but if the expectation has never been clearly stated or there has never been any consequence for disrespect perhaps a spontaneous reward will move things in the right direction. In other words, these children are acquiring a new skill that hasn’t been evident in this particular situation in the past. Over time however, rewards for common respect should lessen and then consequences for disrespect will take the place of rewards.

Cloud and Townsend write:

Once children have learned the skills required for responsible living, these should be expected without reward. To the contrary, it should cost them if they do not do them.

The danger of rewards is when children begin demanding them by asking, “What will you give me for doing this?” When it comes to that, perhaps consequences are in store. We are raising kids not to live rightly in order to get something. We are raising kids to make right choices leading to responsible lives that please God.

Hebrews 11:6 says,

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.



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