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What To Do Instead Of Using A Reward Chart

Doing away with external motivation

Wondering How To Motivate Your Child?

Let's look at the use of reward charts, why it's not necessarily the best idea and how you can motivate your child without using reward charts.

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Some of you may have already heard that one should focus on the positive behaviour of children in order to encourage the behaviour. This is where the misunderstanding of reward charts come in. After all, children are being rewarded for positive behaviour which should motivate them to want to behave, right? Wrong. It is how reward charts are being used that are having a negative impact on children.


Reward Charts work in the short term for seemingly cooperative behaviour if there is consistency, however, in the long term, these types of reward charts can be detrimental to a child’s overall development and behaviour and may also be used at times as bribes.

"If you don't clean your room you're not going to get a sticker on your chart! Then you won't get your reward at the end of the week!"

Children learn to be extrinsically motivated through these types of charts, seeking your approval / validation for being “good”. Essentially, they are bring manipulated into behaving in a way we want them to behave.


Picture your child in a work environment, they may not have passion or pride for what they are doing as they have learnt to seek that external validation.


There is also no positive learning experiences happening when we use Reward Charts. Children are coerced into doing something they don’t necessarily want to do without understanding the implications of not doing what they’re being asked to do. 


Eventually, the reward may not work, and you may find yourself having to increase rewards. In general, reward charts and systems are a setup for failure placing high expectations on our children.


Additionally, it sends this message to a child: 

When I behave a certain way (clean up my toys) “I am good”, and if not, then “I am bad”.


There may be underlying reasons for their behaviour and when they are being coerced into doing something they may not want to do it often backfires because they feel misunderstood. 


Rewards generally don't work because stress produces worry and fear of failure, which reduces the child’s ability to focus and think clearly. The reward becomes a distraction, reduces the child’s performance, and increases the likelihood of failure. The child learns that getting a reward begins with their bad behaviour or a threat of bad behaviour. When this happens, the child is actually forcing the parent to provide a reward to stop or prevent the bad behaviour.

Also, children adopt a “What will I get if I do..” attitude. This is not the goal of a long term cooperative parent/child relationship.

As Erica Reischer from The Atlantic puts it:

"Offering children tangible rewards in exchange for caring behaviour can erode their innate tendency to help others."


Refraining from using a reward as a bargaining tool is a great place to start. You want your child to choose to do things because they want to, not because you have coerced or bribed them to.


1. The first way to achieve this is through connection. Fill your child's love tank by finding out what their Love Language is.


2. Secondly, descriptive praise is all some children need in order to feel valued. In this way, we are acknowledging our children's progress, rather than seeking out perfection in their behaviour.

3. Giving a child choices so that they feel in control helps to motivate them.

4. Being present and playful with your children encourages cooperation.

5. Routines create predictability and sets the stage for success. Children know what is expected of them. One can create routine charts, however this is not the same as a reward chart. Think of a routine chart as a "To-do" list. The more routines you have, the less you have to be nag or repeat yourself. Daily routines before playtime, mealtime, leaving the house, and bedtime set clear expectations for cooperation. The more consistent a child's day, the more they know what is expected of them. The more they know what is expected, the more cooperative they are.

Also, this teaches children that certain responsibilities are part of everyday life. Something such as making the bed first thing in the morning should not be seen as a chore one can get a star on a chart for, but rather as something that, according to research, sets you up for success.

The Big 5 Routine Chart as well as The Big 5 Morning Routine Video are available (can be customised) which encourages children to get ready independently and sets the stage for intrinsic motivation and sense of accomplishment.

The Big 5 Morning Routine Chart:

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6. Have conversations after success around how good it feels to have done the tasks or the benefits from doing the right thing. Describe those feelings with your child. Modeling your own chores, speaking about them out loud as you do them and speaking about the feeling it gives you sets the stage for success with your child.

You can say: "It feels good when we do our chores and have a clean house. When we try our best we feel successful."


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Incentives are a means of using positive reinforcement to encourage a child to behave according to the way in which we wish them to. Positive reinforcement should only be implemented “as training wheels” – and even then, only if you have already tried approaches emphasizing the relationship with your child as outlined above. In other words, while a reward system may get your child into the habit of behaving in the desired manner, it’s not a long-term solution.


It must be noted that rewards and punishments are “two sides of the same coin”. Positive reinforcement may be effective, but it should be used sparingly, if at all. It has been shown that children tend to respond well to positive reinforcement for the same reasons adults do. Most of us would be more motivated to meet performance goals for a manager who rewards our efforts than be subject to punishment for poor performance. However, would you be likely to care about positive reinforcement or rewards from someone you don’t respect or feel connected to?


There is one important point: When it comes to motivating our children, no system or method can (or should) take the place of a loving relationship. As parents, it is crucial to understand that it’s our connection with our kids – not any sticker, star, sweetie, or punishment that can help get them back on track. In the short run, it generally takes tangible incentives to get a behaviour going, but in the long run, it is our positive social attention that is the most powerful. Natural consequences opposed to punishments are also far more effective and provide concrete learning opportunities for children. Children don't learn anything from a punishment other than to do, or not to do something again out of fear. 

Want to know the difference between natural consequences and punishments? Download the printable here:

If used correctly, rewards and incentives can build self-discipline, intrinsic control, delayed gratification, and intrinsic motivation and eliminates or drastically reduces the need for direct, coercive control of a child by the parent, therefore strengthening the parent-child relationship. Extrinsic incentives can produce intrinsic (internal) control of behaviour.


With an incentive, the child is choosing to do what is expected. The child, not the parent, is deciding to act. Parents who have taken the longer route of trusting and helping their child to gain self-motivation through a sensible appraisal of values, find that this is intrinsically gainful for them as well. 


Some examples are: Rather than buying your child a toy as an incentive, consider buying yourself the toy, and then allowing your child to earn time playing with it. Rather than having your child work for a month to earn a new video game, have them work for a much shorter time to earn time with the new game that you buy for the family. Further use of the new game is earned by appropriate behaviour.


Kids get focused on the prize, and the lesson or skill we want to establish or reinforce is lost. The stars or stickers are just external motivators that get kids to do what we want, but do not help encourage our kids to be the kind of people we want them to be.


It comes down to two questions: What are you really trying to teach and what is the message you want to send? Kids who are raised on rewards and sticker charts tend to be more self centered, materialistic, and are more easily influenced by peers, money, and recognition. As parents, you need to make sure you are not being the “bad boss.”


Smile at your children and find many good things about them. Avoid criticizing and coercing your children. When you do, incentives will work both to get your child doing the desired behaviour and to build long-term cooperation and motivation. Incentives used sparingly and in the short term, can put your child in control of their own behaviour, improve the parent/child relationship, and help the child learn to develop intrinsic control of their behaviour.


Once again, used correctly, being motivated by incentives can produce good results.

Order Your Incentive Menus Here:

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Also Order 21 Incentive Coupons Here:

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Need More Support?

We are happy to offer assistance, guidance and support in terms of how to implement routine charts if that's your goal, incentives based on the 5 love languages and natural consequences. This encourages a child to learn from each experience, has long-term benefits, encourages them to be intrinsically motivated, encourages problem-solving and sets the stage for success later on in life.


We mean well in our intentions with our children, but don’t often realize the negative consequences of these types of systems, and that’s where we jump in to help!

Contact us here for Parenting Support in Child Behaviour and Development or email to find out about the next course/workshop. Register for our Positive Discipline course to learn all the tools to equip you with becoming the positive, conscious, and empowered parent you envision for your family!

Module 5: Handling Power Struggles, Routines and Other Parenting/Caregiving Solutions

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More Resources

The Trouble With Rewards - by The Natural Child Project

Why You Shouldn’t Reward Students For Good Behavior - by Smart Classroom Management

Need Support? Choose a support plan here:

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