Posted by: laughs4dads | March 22, 2010

The Risk of Rewards

In her March 12 post, Elizabeth Humphrey of talks about studies that appear to reveal that rewarding children for behavior, “whether it’s getting them to master toilet training, trigonometry or taking out the trash,” may not be the best approach.

She quotes an author, Alfie Kohn, as stating that the practice of offering incentives as rewards “spares” adults from having to work toward finding out what might motivate a child on an intrinsic level and “to make school meaningful for students.”  (The quote placement is Ms. Humphrey’s.)

Another expert, Dr. Barbara A. Marinak, who, according to Humphrey, “spends hours studying elementary school classrooms” is quoted as follows: 

”Provide children with behavior specific feedback.” ‘Nice job’ doesn’t tell a child anything. As opposed to ‘Emily, you did an excellent job in your persuasive paper and your call to action is very compelling.’ What she did, when she did it, and what she did well.”

Okay.  Well, first, I don’t know what elementary school Dr. Marinak is working with, but I’d conjecture that her observations are skewed by the fact that it is clearly a school of geniuses.   I mean, seriously, how many fifth graders have you met that would know what the hell you were talking about when you said “Emily, you did an excellent job in your persuasive paper and your call to action is very compelling.”?  I’ll bet that statement might even get you a kick in the shin if you happened to be talking to some kid named Mike.

Second, spending “hours studying elementary school classrooms” doesn’t seem like the sort of time commitment one might expect from an expert.  I’m thinking “years” might be more appropriate.  Hours would be more like the amount of time someone like me would spend, if I was much more ambitious than I actually am (as always, see blog disclaimer in right column).

Having said all that, though, I agree with the research.  I do believe that ongoing praise is more effective long-term than a one-time reward.  In fact, that’s not only true of children.  When I was creative director of an ad agency, I found that commending particularly good efforts made people much happier in their positions, although I also found that you do occasionally have to reward them, often with salary.

As our daughter, Casey, was growing up, we tried to praise her work and encourage her pursuits as much as possible.  However, I’d like to propose a study of my own: we put a bunch of education experts in a room with a bunch of kids and tell them that their job is to get the kids to go to the store with them.

Let’s see how long it takes until the children are offered cookies.  Because sometimes, you just have to sacrifice your child’s long-term development for your short-term sanity.




  1. I have three kids ages 11, 9, and 6 so I don’t have as many years experience as you Mr. Hallen. But every time I read one of your posts, the first word that comes to mind is AMEN! I hope you continue this blog, it truly is the only one I can think of that I read every single post on. Thanks for the laughs, shared experiences, and of course things to dread in the future of my fatherhood. Keep ’em comin’ and I’ll keep reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: