If we have ever dangled a reward for our son, since two years old, and now he is almost three, (i.e. if you eat your lunch by yourself, we can go the duck pond), he rejects the reward, even if it is something that he really likes. He says “I don’t want to go to the duck pond anyway.” I believe this is a manifestation of anxiety, a fear of failure, or a combination of the two.

He has trouble with using his hands. So he avoids stacking blocks, playing with Play dough, and coloring. He likes books, being read to, looking through the pictures in books and imaginative play. He enjoys learning letters and memorizing songs and books.

1) How can I motivate him if he rejects the concept of rewards? 2) How can I get him to try new things that he is not good at like stacking blocks? 3) How can I encourage competitiveness as that is required in this world?

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    Have you taught him to evaluate the value of the reward against the task? If so, why are you surprised he is now applying what you taught?
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 7:40
  • I don’t think so. Any mental calculation about whether the pleasure of the reward outweighs the pain of working towards the goal is his own conception.
    – ChefShab
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 20:44
  • @ChefShab - Are you sure? The child might be by nature timid, but if you're competitive or focused on the result, he may also be afraid of disappointing you by failing. Praise the process, not the product. Commented May 10, 2020 at 22:31
  • Fine motor control is a life skill, he can't avoid using his hands forever. Have you asked your pediatrician about this?
    – swbarnes2
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 23:34
  • Some students are eventually diagnosed dispraxic -- it may affect their handwriting etc.
    – ChrisW
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 12:40

2 Answers 2


I think parenting by rewards is inherently problematic, for reasons such as what you're experiencing. Rewards generally teaches kids to desire the reward, and not whatever it was you were using the reward for.

1) So it seems your child doesn't respond well to rewards? That means you have to find other incentives. A more direct approach would be to make the thing itself appear more appealing. I personally would rather see my children do the thing for the thing itself and not for an arbitrary reward. Try to appeal to the inherent value of the thing you want to make happen. If you can't find one, question why the thing should be done. If the value is only for you, and not the child, you can usually say something like "I'd really appreciate if..." Pleasing you and is an important value to your child. Make sure you also express your gratification afterwards.

2) This is not something I'd stress personally. If the child is busy exploring one aspect of the world, you may consider how important it is that your still young child can focus on all areas at once. But given that this is your aim, if your child is not inclined towards competition, make sure you steer away from competitive elements in introducing novel tasks, lest the task should seem unappealing in several regards at once. Keep it playful. Model play: stack blocks on your own with no pressure or expectation of the child to follow suit. Just let the child notice that this is also a possible avenue of play. Follow the natural inclination of your child. Draw letters on your blocks and stack them to build simple towers of two to three letter words. Latch on to the child's inclination to imaginative play and make the blocks into characters and tell a story, using them as action figures, and make the story unfold such that the figures are piling up on top of each other.

3) I want to throw in a caveat that if it turns out your child simply isn't very competitive, that there are virtues in that too. Ultimately, our jobs as parents are to help out children grow to achieve their goals; not to set them. But again, if this is your aim: when young children enjoy competition, what they enjoy is usually winning. Don't introduce competition into an area the child already has an aversion to, for the same reasons as in 2). Make sport out of things the child already enjoys, and let them win. But be mindful that the introduction of competition isn't runining the fun in the things your child does enjoy. If you see a tendency towards that, I'd back off. Optimising for competitiveness has the risk of suggesting to the child that their self worth is linked to their performance, which I think can be to their detriment.

  • "Optimising for competitiveness has the risk of suggesting to the child that their self worth is linked to their performance, which I think can be to their detriment." +1. Here, child educators have a saying to remind us that it's the child's mindset that counts: "Praise the process, not the product." If you only praise the product, you're raising a child to see themselves as failures, as we all don't succeed at everything we try. Commented May 10, 2020 at 22:29

I'm told it's good to encourage effort, not success.

Scenario: Children are given a task. Afterwards they're praised, one group praised for how diligent their effort was, the other group praised for how successful their outcome. Then they're given a second, more difficult task -- those whose success was praised are less motivated to continue their seemingly-unsuccessful attempt than those whose effort was praised.

Also FWIW my mum (a preschool teacher) tended not to criticise children -- but when she saw behaviour she she wanted to encourage, she'd praise that (e.g. "Thank you for puting the toys away") -- a child is usually doing something right!

She had a copy of "Children Learn What They Live" by Dorothy Law Nolte framed on the wall above her desk, a gift to her from the school's senior teacher.

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