Parenting: Can It Be Bad to Reward Children for Being Good?

All parents need to motivate their kids. Whether it’s getting infants to eat their dinner or getting a sixth-grader to do homework, getting kids to apply energy to a situation can be a challenge. The traditional way has all-too-often been to shout, threaten, and scold children into action.
But while that approach has some obvious drawbacks, it turns out the other extreme can be harmful too, according to experts. Some parents simply reward their children too much, which can reinforce a whole range of negative personality traits.

And it’s not just a matter of getting “spoiled,” like many people might think. There are some deeply-rooted, problematic behaviors that come from being rewarded too much as a child. Here are some of the downsides to giving your child too much in the hope of motivating them:

Kids learn to do things only when rewarded
Children are master observers. They quickly pick up the subtext for why things operate the way they do in their world. And if you continually reward children for doing things, pretty soon they can develop the opinion that they should only do things if there’s a reward or payment involved. This can be a counterproductive attitude as the child grows into an adult.

Children can lose trust in their own judgment
When parents too-often reward children for various behaviors, it removes opportunities for children to judge for themselves what’s important and necessary – they always have an expert in the form of their parents to tell them what should matter to them. This can undermine their confidence in their own perceptions.

The child learns to focus on external rewards instead internal ones
When children are rewarded too much, they can build up a tendency to focus on external rewards instead of internal ones – the “What’s in it for me?” attitude. And while this may prove to be an expedient way to get your child to clean up the mess he or she made in the living room, it’s ultimately not always so handy as it mutates and grows into adulthood. At that point, this viewpoint can become a severe liability.

It signals that the task must be unpleasant
By offering a reward anytime a task needs to be done, parents send a message to their kids that the task is unpleasant. But that may not necessarily be the case. Many tasks can be fun for a child because kids relentlessly crave new experiences and learning. Reward-giving often thwarts this natural craving, by distracting attention with external reinforcement.