Detriment: That word seems harsh when talking about “rewards” for children. Aren’t rewards supposed to be great? Maybe not! A recent study has found that 3 year olds who were rewarded with an extrinsic material were less likely to continue kind behavior and more likely to increase in bad behavior. Yes, that sounds bizarre, but that is exactly what the study found. You can read it here.

Material rewards have recently concerned me. I’ve seen the disappointing effects when years later, the 6th grader (who has received material rewards for years), scores a 100 on his test and says, “Wow, a 100! What do I get?” For a long time, we haven’t been aware of how to fix this, even though we’ve known that we don’t want to raise generation of children who do the right thing, solely based on “what they were going to get” for it. For a while now, this whole issue has left me uncomfortable in my spirit.

Another very common discipline strategy that has worried me is the concept of giving stickers for good behavior and taking away stickers for bad behavior. (or substitute stickers for other material rewards…money, chocolate, prizes etc.)

I’ve thought about my own life…I have good days and bad days like everyone else. I don’t know about you, but I am certainly glad God doesn’t hand out material rewards to me based on my behavior.  How miserable (and how anxiety-ridden) I would be if God placed a visible sticker on me for something “good” I’ve done! I would also hate to watch Him take something away when I’ve have said hurtful words to a family member, raised my voice at my child or sped down the highway.

Thankfully, God does discipline us and sometimes our consequences are public, (because of our own choices) but God does not discipline based on a sticker system and I am one sinner who is thankful for that. I am grateful that He doesn’t sit around in Heaven giving rewards to some and punishments to others.  God is clear that His love isn’t based on how good we are on a certain day. However, when we do obey him, we experience a very real, intrinsic feeling that is called peace. When we are out of his will, He doesn’t send bad things to happen to us. He might send an unrest in our spirit, a convicting thought or a constant tapping in our soul to come back to Him. Honestly, I think we can all agree that when we are consciously out of His will, no matter how enticing the sin was, that unceasing turmoil inside of us is miserable. When we are obedient though, we have His calm within us, a peace that passes understanding. That peace is strong, filled with eternal joy and far beyond anything materialistic. Both of these godly disciplines, conviction and His peace are intrinsic disciplines.  

Ideally, we want to discipline our children the way God disciplines us. Why then, do we discipline our own children and children in our classrooms with a materially based reward system instead of an intrinsic one? A lot of us do it because it is what our parents did. Some of us do it because we don’t know what else to do.  Many of us were actually taught to use this type of system back in college. I love Maya Angelou’s quote, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

So, what is the answer to this dilemma? After attending conferences, watching successful teachers and discussing this extensively I would offer the following idea to all parents and educators.  I admit, it is not an original of mine! I have simply taken some great models and have coupled them with scriptural principles. 

Instead of handing out treasure box toys and stickers…let’s just honor godly character with a celebration!  Anytime I see something in our classroom (or at home with Wes) that exhibits Christ-like behavior, we mark it with a painted rock symbolizing that godly trait. At our school, we have chapel themes each month. This month we are studying “obedience”. I chose to represent obedience with a cross. After all, Jesus was obedient to the cross even when it was excruciatingly hard. When I see a child being obedient in our classroom, I verbally call it out and say, “Hey! Luke just put his homework right into the homework bin just like I told him to.” Our CIA (Character Investigating Agent) picks out a cross from our rock box and places it onto the board. Later, if I see the whole class walking in line correctly, I’ll say, “Wow! The whole class is walking in line with their hands behind their back. You are godly men and women.” Again, the CIA will place another cross on our board. We change to rocks with different pictures each month based on the chapel theme.  The rocks with a heart picture are used all year as they are for acts of kindness or love. So, if a child puts up another child’s chair I say, “Kyle, you are showing the fruit of the spirit, young man. You treated your friend with kindness by putting up his chair for him. Way to go!” The CIA puts up a heart. “Jessica, you invited your friend to play with you at recess. How kind of you! What a godly woman you are.” The CIA puts up a heart. At the end of the day, we count the number of rocks and mark the total on our small chalkboard. Then I say, “Look at this class! Look at all the things God is teaching us. What godly men and women you are becoming. God is so pleased to see this.” On Fridays, we count them all up and we celebrate our godly traits. (It doesn’t matter how many we have, we always celebrate on Friday.) The CIA gets to choose what our celebration will be: Dancing for 3 songs of their choice? Ten extra minutes of free centers? Red Light/Green Light game outside? Bring a stuffed animal to school on Friday? All of these are choices that allow for some sort of fun way to celebrate, but none of them involve taking home material rewards. Also, everyone celebrates! No one is left out!

We have had a really great time working on these this year. I have students who come to me all through the day saying, “I have a kindness report, Miss Osborne!” I can’t tell you how that makes my heart feel. To hear that they have a celebration report about their friend and not a negative report on a peer is something to be praised. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We still have the tattles and the frustrating moments, but little by little we are beginning to think about these things, too, and we are marking it, honoring it, and celebrating it. We are working hard at ROCK-ing out our classroom!

Rocks and Rock Boards can be found at here.

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