How to Motivate your Kids without Using Rewards

Read about the ways you can motivate your kids without using rewards.

All parents would love to get up one day and see the dishes done, the house straightened up, the beds made, grass cut and the garbage is taken out without them asking their kids to do these chores repeatedly. Some children can be downright stubborn when it comes to taking out the garbage and doing menial chores because they don’t see why it has to be done right at the moment. Procrastination is common in all human beings, however; that’s why many end up being slackers in the work field because they let the little things slide too much and end up with major stress when something has to be done or completed with a deadline. A job gives you a paycheck and maybe a yearly bonus but rarely a reward, so it’s good to teach your kids how to be motivated without expecting a reward. This is a good way to prepare them for the real world as an adult.

All parents have tried to change their child’s behavior by bribing them with a reward. It could be dessert if your child would finish their dinner. A toy if they would stop protesting about going to the doctor or the dentist. All parents have used sticker charts as well for incentives to get their child to behave or get better grades in school. This is a case of operant conditioning that parents use as a technique by using psychology. The logic about this is if kids see they are rewarded for good behavior, this is most likely going to happen again. This type of conditioning has been used to train animals like dogs, rats, and humans as well as babies. The thing is that it works and works quite well.

The problem is the way this works. This type of reward system teaches kids they will get a reward for good behavior. The downside is when you take away the reward, the behavior will return again. Another issue is your kids will start bartering with you by saying “what will you give me if I complete the task “or “what do I get?” The most important lesson in research is saying that giving out rewards for doing something, actually undermines normal motivation to do the exact same task for no reward. When kids are rewarded for good grades, their learning skills might only be motivated by receiving a huge reward and not for the knowledge the children actually are gaining.


Years of research support this study. There was a study with college students that concerned puzzles and half the students were offered rewards for completing the puzzle, and the other half were not paid. The students took a break and were told they could do whatever they wanted, with the idea of working on the puzzle or choosing another project. On the contrary to what people would have believed, the students who were not paid chose to work on the puzzle, while the paid students lost their motivation for completing the task. This is a form of reverse psychology at it’s best.

There were similar outcomes with children as well. Researchers gave preschoolers a drawing project where they used these beautiful markers, something this age group would enjoy. Another group of preschoolers was told to draw with the markers and they would get a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon. In both situations, children were not given a reward, or they were given the reward as a surprise after they were done playing with the markers. They were also told ahead of time that they would get the certificate. The bottom line was the same as the older students, the kids who were offered the reward showed less interest in drawing with the markers, where the kids drawing that were not offered the reward continued to keep drawing.

Classic Studies

These studies may be classics and very old, but they have been around forever. An analysis of over 100 studies indicated that researchers have found consistently that offering rewards will undermine intricate motivation for many tasks, and many are fun to learn and do. This doesn’t mean that you should never use the reward system, just use them sparingly and to your advantage because you are the parents. When you want to teach your children lifelong learning experiences, constant rewards are not good ideas.

Another Example of using Rewards

Parents can use rewards when it comes to good behavior. Parents try very hard to promote truthfulness and ethical qualities in their children. Parents have to understand that telling negative stories about the consequences of lying does not really promote honesty. In the case of a story where kids heard about a character stealing a cookie and lying about the cookie, the children said the character really should tell the truth in the story, and these were the kids that are raised to tell the truth about breaking rules, and don’t get punished because they did tell the truth.

This basically suggests that telling the kids they will receive a reward for doing everything right is like telling them being good really isn’t fun if they don’t figure it out on their own. Parents that want to teach their kids that getting good grades is fun, helping others is rewarding for themselves, are teaching their kids that rewards aren’t always the answer. A child will feel much better if they do good deeds for nothing in return, and this will carry on into adulthood. It’s great to give your child an allowance for tackling the big tasks, but the routine daily tasks, they shouldn’t expect money for on a daily basis. All parents expect their kids to keep their rooms clean, wash the dishes, fold and put away their laundry and giving a reward for these small things you as parents do on a daily basis could backfire. Remember to use rewards for your advantage and don’t shop and spend hundreds of dollars on gifts for doing things they should be doing anyway.