I have been reading about star charts and other reward systems for children, and wonder whether rewarding what I would call normal behaviour (e.g. do your chores, don't hit your little brother, etc) is not counter-productive in the long-run. If children are raised on the premise that they should get something every time they do something that is really part of their daily normal routine, won't they carry this type of expectations into adulthood? Is it better to limit rewards to behaviour that exceeds expectations?

Note : I guess this question may trigger opinions rather than answers so looking to the community to provide guidance and perhaps reword the question differently.

  • 2
    In real life people do not receive gifts every time they do good things...
    – kokbira
    Jun 18, 2012 at 18:09
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    Humans, like most animals, react better to positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement.
    – DA01
    Jan 4, 2013 at 21:14
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    Nice Question, you get a bronze badge! :)
    – Aaron Hall
    Dec 8, 2014 at 21:47

9 Answers 9


They should be rewarded for good behavior in the process of learning the good behavior. Then after a while when the child understands that the "good behavior task" is expected, you can gradually stop rewarding for that behavior. It is important that this kind of rewarding is just praising, and not giving gifts like toys or treats as rewarding. I don't consider star charts as gifts, because this is more symbolic action that is a more of a practical praise method than just telling.

While doing this, you must at the same time make sure they understand that it is the way to behave, and take discipline action if they don't behave as expected.

You said:

Is it better to limit rewards to behaviour that exceeds expectations?

Yes, but when you think about it, behavior that we normally expect to be the normal behavior, will always have to be learned by the children. Until the child have learned it, it is not understood to be expected from the child's point of view, and praise needs to be given when doing things that has not yet become a natural part of what the child understands to be expected.

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    +1 for rewarding the learning and not the behavior itself. Jun 15, 2012 at 18:28
  • The normal behavior becomes normal only after we learn it. Until then, it is just a new behavior we learn. Otherwise, we wouldn't have to learn it, right? (In a different country or in a different century, the concept of normality would be different in some aspects.) Jan 10, 2013 at 8:33
  • @ViliamBúr: Yes, this is basically what I try to say in the last paragraph in my answer.
    – awe
    Jan 11, 2013 at 12:00

Rewarding good behavior has its place, but as I mention in this answer, I believe that children should not be generally rewarded for meeting basic expectations.

We use positive feedback as a crude form of reward for my 21-month-old son; cheering and clapping when he does what we ask him to do. However, we don't bribe him with incentives (no "if you pick up your toys, you can have a cookie", etc.), and as he gets older we plan to simply communicate our basic expectations, and enforce them without a reward system.

We still haven't decided on what route we'll go as far as money/allowance/etc., but I'm leaning towards a system that rewards exceptional performance, as opposed to meeting basic expectations.

As I mentioned in comments to that other answer, I believe it is a parent's job to teach children the lessons they need in order to be a good adult.

Offering children rewards for completing chores and basic tasks teaches them that they should expect rewards, and that tasks or chores that don't result in a rewards are not worth doing. It leads to a sense of entitlement, which leads to frustration and disappointment later in life when they learn that that is not how the world really works. Yes, they will get "rewarded" for doing their job later in life with pay, but more and more people seem to believe that getting paid for their job only requires them to do the minimum required by their job description, which is not a healthy attitude in a competitive marketplace.

  • In addition to "generally expected behaviour", there's the angle that "belonging to this family is the reward for meeting basic expectations." There are many schools of thought, of course, but I agree with you on this one.
    – Olie
    Jun 16, 2012 at 4:46
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    @Olie Expecting kids to understand that "belonging to a family" is a reward is a little ridiculous. My parents tried that when I was a kid, and it made me resent being in a family, because any time I was reminded of "how great being in a family" was, it was because I couldn't do something I wanted to do (and I clearly had no choice in the matter). Just going with the "it's the right thing to do" angle is much easier to understand. Jul 7, 2012 at 1:59
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    @Olie I have a different reason for objecting to "belonging to this family is the reward for meeting basic expectations". If I don't meet basic expectations, do I cease to be part of the family? I expect that my love for my child, treating him/her as part of the family, is not conditioned on picking up their room, even if I expect it of them. Jul 11, 2013 at 9:03
  • A way of limiting rewards to doing tasks and chores, would be to surprise the child occasionally by rewarding after they have done it (without promising anything in forehand). This will teach them that doing good will sometimes pay off, but not generally to expect to get reward.
    – awe
    Oct 4, 2013 at 8:45

There are those who feel that rewards are just as counter-productive as punishments. See "Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn. He observes that both follow essentially the same pattern: "do this and you'll get A" is pretty much the same as "don't do this and you'll get B." He cites some research indicating that using extrinsic rewards can actually quash a child's intrinsic motivation, and that adding rewards to something a person already wants to do will make them NOT want to do it. His main point seems to be that both rewards and punishment are ways of manipulating the child, and imposing what the parent wants, instead of acknowledging the child's own (legitimate) wants and needs.

Personally, I tend to agree with Kohn. Note that he's not against positive reinforcement or praise - it seems to me like somewhat of a nuance but it's important to acknowledge an accomplishment, share the child's feeling, without going over the top to where you're trying to give them some sort of bonus above the joy that they're already feeling. Kids want to have a positive relationship with their parents, but they also want to be understood and respected - just like any human being. It's important to focus on that instead of instituting a system whereby you are simply buying their compliance with your orders.

  • Not all rewards work in the same way. For example, it is generally true that external motivation supresses internal motivation. (People do X voluntarily. You start rewarding them for doing X. They learn that X brings rewards. Then you stop rewarding them. People stop doing X, because now they believe it's only worth doing X for a reward.) But there is an exception: a sincere praise does not reduce internal motivation, although it technically is an external reward. The key is that the rewarded person must believe that the praise was deserved. (Undeserved praise is harmful too.) Jan 10, 2013 at 8:44
  • From what I understand, praise shouldn't be a reward. For example, if a toddler manages to put a shirt on by himself, you shouldn't say "you've done a great job," but rather "wow, you put it on all by yourself." That way, you're not rewarding the behavior with special treatment/attention; you're simply underlining the child's own sense of accomplishment.
    – Kricket
    Jul 10, 2013 at 15:59

We have done this with all three kids. They needed 26 stickers for a prize (yes even my 3 year old could wait that long). After 26 stickers the behavior was a habit. I told them we don't have to work on this behavior any longer that they were amazing at it now and it worked!

  • The way I read your post, it sounds like you're answering the "how" but not the "why"? Jun 15, 2012 at 18:16
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    @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun: I guess the why is answerd by the 3 last words: "... and it worked!"
    – awe
    Jun 18, 2012 at 11:57

I never really thought of a parent's role as creating consequences (good or bad), but as converting long term consequences into short term ones. Kids have the double handicap of both being naturally more short-sighted than adults and having more of their natural consequences be far in the future.

For example, the natural consequences of not paying attention in school won't occur until a child is 18 and can't get a decent job. Parents and teachers artificially impose several smaller rewards and punishments in the short term in order to avoid much larger consequences for the child in the long term. It's like amortizing the cost.

It would be nice if everything worthwhile was intrinsically motivational short term, but that's just not the case, even for adults. If a natural, short term reward exists, that's certainly preferable, but not always possible.


You're right you shouldn't reward for expected behavior but I've found when things need to get done if I ask and it's done right the first time I'll give something. Generally my rewards are with praise and appreciation. And then we talk about responsibility and such. I do give an allowance for getting their work done (basic chores) at the end of each week. It's teaching them responsibility and how to work for their money. They get a certain amount each day if they complete their assigned tasks which continue to increase as time goes on. My son (7) has started budgeting his money and thinking about what things he can buy and what things he can't. He got a wallet from his grandma to keep his money in so it's been working great for him as he knows how much he can spend and if he doesn't have enough he has to save for it.

There are times I'll use bribes in order to get things done but I've made it very clear that you don't get what you want all the time. At first it was difficult not giving in but if your strong and stick to your guns the kids will learn.

Another great thing I've found is sports and scounts. My son is in all the youth sports and it's teaching alot about winning and losing and getting what you want. sometimes he gets a medal and/or trophy. Other times he doesn't. It's a hard lesson especially when his friends on other teams are getting them and he's not. We had the scout pine wood derby and my son didn't get a trophy but his best friend did. That was hard for him and we talked through it. It was a great lesson for him. You're not always going to get a reward or prize.

Alot of this depends on the age too. My daughter is a little more difficult, because she's younger (4). She of course wants everything her big bother wants so we work hard to make her understand that you can't always have what others have and you have to work hard for what you want.

As stated earlier: If you do reward for good behavior then yes you really should start to reduce that reward and eventually eliminate it because it could have adverse affects later in life.


I'd suggest reading, Parenting with Love and Logic as well as looking at the Mecham's website which is something like, "school at home effectively.com" Sorry, a simple search will find them. Even if you don't home school their over all philosophy is about NATURAL consequences (good and bad). Based on the way you worded your question, I have a feeling their philosophy will really jive with you and work wonders in your home.


Rewards are used to reinforce positive behaviors, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to give gifts in every good behavior that the child does. Select only those behavior which you think can be considered as milestone for the kids. For example, if they get high marks in a particular subject that they are having difficulty for the past few days, you can the child a treat, to reward his or her hard work.

In addition, rewards does not only mean giving material gift, saying good job, great, a nod, or a smile, or a praise can already mean something for the child. You don't have to give them material things. Sometimes, an appreciation means so much for them.

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    I'd suggest giving a reward for effort and not acheivment.
    – DanBeale
    Jan 27, 2014 at 14:10

I think you absolutely should acknowledge meeting expectations. If the only thing you take note of is when you punish, admonish or mete out consequences, then the only attention you are giving your child is negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement works much better than negative.

Charts with stars and stuff like that often are not a "reward" as much as a positive way to track progress towards an ultimate goal.

You can still do this and not coddle. For instance, set the goals and expectations very high.

But, overall, there's nothing wrong with making the process/experience one that is rewarding, even if someone isn't crowned the champ at what they do. I hear parents all the time going on about "participation medals," but what is also real, in life, is that there is only one person who is "best," and billions who are not, and those billions aren't worthless or losers because of it.

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