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BRAINSAREFUN FEARLESS FRIDAY BLOG – news from the reading renaissance – Friday April 12, 2013

REWARDS – Put your kids in charge of winning – Part 1

Summary: Good News! Rewards can actually change behavior for the better. Punishment rarely works the way it's intended, so you can stop using it.

The idea is this, “You agree. I agree. Now, let’s do it.”

NOTE: Rewards should never be confused with candy. The best rewards are a thumbs up, a smile, eye contact, a touch on the shoulder, a kiss, a hug, a "positive referral" to the principal's office, earning for one's effort… Rewarding with candy and other sweet treats increases the intake of more refined sugar, and most of us are already getting plenty.

One of the major rewards, common to all people as far as I can tell, is the love of earning. “Allowances,” “Giving” and “Take-Aways” are all replaced by “earning.”

Parents and teachers tell me, "I'm uneasy with this whole concept of paying children to do something they should be doing anyway. I want them to study out of a real love of learning, not because they are being paid."

This is probably the most common complaint I hear about getting kids on contracts.

Parents and teachers tell me they’re concerned about "bribing" or "rewarding" behavior they would prefer came naturally, or from a "love" or "feeling of responsibility."

I understand the question: Parents and teachers don't like paying children for doing what they think should be done for free. My response is, "Very rarely do we do anything for free." An easier route is to appeal to a child's self-interest.

Exercising control is not the same as bribery. Bribery is something you do under the table and is illegal. "Earning" is a proud part of the American tradition and is an essential part of growing into an adult. 

The two greatest motivators that are guaranteed to get people going are self-interest and social approval. Simply enough, human beings really like to be rewarded. This is the way things really are – not some pie-in-the-sky mumbo jumbo with unstated outcomes.

I work in order to earn a paycheck. Being paid is a huge reward. It leads directly to me being able to take care of my family and buying stuff that I want.

Since the future of the world seems to count on people being able to read, that's where I put my focus. I reward those behaviors associated with academic success: starting on time, staying on task and completing their assignments. Why these three? Because they are behaviors that can easily be counted and charted. They are foundational behaviors associated with success every area.

I am committed to quality survival in the real world and that means that everyone is going to have to continue their educations if they want to hold jobs with a future. 

Children who begin earning at a young age will not be shocked later in life when they will be required to make their own way.

Why reward with cash? Paying cash sends a very strong message in our society: "I really think this is important." Cash is easy to manage, it is easily exchanged for millions of goodies. Cash is real power. By allowing children to earn real power instead of a platitude you allow the child to exercise control. 

If you believe your child isn't motivated by cash, feel free to agree on alternative items and experiences of value. (More about this next Fearless Friday)

I’ve had success saying this, "How would you like to be able to earn cash for doing your homework?" Appeal directly to their self-interest. You will find this far more effective than appealing to some abstract sense of obligation or morality. You’ve already demonstrated that take-always don’t work.


  • To paraphrase Albert Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers: "Kids are just like adults. They'll do whatever they have to in order to get what they want. If they can get what they want – inflated grades, social promotion, diploma by attendance, open admission to college, free money and privileges – without any real work, then don't expect them to work. Kids aren't stupid."
  • ​​Going to school is a child's job. Since I get paid for my job, I believe my children should also have the opportunity to earn for doing theirs. No one complains when an adult is paid for doing a good job. I don’t get why we complain when it’s about our kids. Many parents are willing to pay for chores. Why do these same parents balk at rewarding their children for effort that is far more critical to their future success?
  • The idea of studying out of a "love of learning" is a little specious. Yes, it's a goal, and a path towards that goal is to catch children studying and rewarding them immediately.
  • Should they develop a love of learning? Of course, children are born loving to learn and behaving in ways that receive lots of rewards. This natural drive can certainly be used to teach them to read and succeed academically. The same natural drive can be appealed to in adults through much the same channels.

Now, that is a lesson worth learning.

Thanks for all you do to flood kids with success. Let me know how I can help.



P.S. If you haven't received your 10 Free Reading Tools and Solutions, click here and leave me your email address. I think you're going to like them.

Brainsarefun Fearless Friday Blog, published fearlessly every Friday, © 2013 by Rory Donaldson,, 860-304-3178.

Rory Donaldson

I flood kids with reading, math and study-skill success.