Rewards and consequences have their pros and cons. When I was in the classroom with my first and second graders I tried establishing a rewards system as part of  my classroom management strategy. I hated the inconvenience of having to pay attention to one more detail! One more thing to assess, document, or put money into. My brain just felt overwhelmed and I honestly wasn’t very good at being consistent with a system. It just felt a bit artificial and I didn’t really sell it well. I wondered if I was accomplishing the right thing with my students – of course I wanted immediate compliance, but were they learning to gain self-control and self-confidence or was I training them to always expect a reward? I guess I believed that external rewards hinder internal motivation and fostering internal motivation is what really creates enthusiasm for learning. Real learning that lasts, not just finishing homework or following directions during group work.

Now  I have my own kids, and I am reconsidering this issue with potty training. My husband and I have been a little frustrated that we’ve been working on potty-training our son for 2 years – yes, he is almost 4. I have gone through the whole gammit of thoughts and feelings like “Oh my gosh, I am such a bad parent -we haven’t gotten a handle on this – something is wrong with him – we are spoiling him to let this go on so long…etc. etc.” We have tried rewards like suckers and toys, but then he just asks for treats all day. God forbid he fail to get a treat, and the tantrums go on and on. He didn’t seem to be making much progress. After a few weeks he just stopped caring about stickers and treats and was more interested in playing than stopping for potty breaks. Our pediatrician recommended we take a break from training and try again in a few weeks.

Next, we tried consequences – things like enforced potty breaks every half-hour, restricting favorite TV shows or activities that seemed to be distracting him from paying attention to the potty. This didn’t work quite so well either because he would just get mad, resist our efforts to control him, and he actually started having more accidents! I couldn’t believe it. I gave up pressing the issue for a few weeks. He has to learn on his own, right? He has to be the one to decide that he is going to learn to monitor himself and DO IT!  Hence – internal motivation. We have always tried to give him a lot of verbal praise and affirmation for his efforts but in the end it comes down to the child. Some kids are much more independently willed than others. 

I did find some really great ideas for rewards at Child Development Institute. They are segmented by age level and focus on activities instead of material goods. Some of these make more sense to me as far as encouraging internal motivation, or at least your personal relationship with the child.
We are still intermittently using rewards, in combination with some consequences, but I have resigned myself to accept that he’s on his own timeline with this. He wants to please us initially, and will hopefully feel good about his successes as he masters this new skill little by little!  I would love to hear any stories, wisdom, or redirection you have to offer! Feel free to leave a comment below! Are systems of rewards and consequences an effective way to get kids cooperating, or just an annoying inconvenience? 

How do they work for your classroom management?


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