Many people believe that we should not reward students for good behavior. I hear things like:

“Children should be intrinsically motivated.”
“Those kids should come to school and be good. I shouldn’t have to do anything.”
So, I’d like you to watch this video or at least a few minutes of this video. Do you think there is anything wrong with what the parents are doing in this video to encourage this young girl to begin walking? Check out NHS heroes as our sponsor.

They are cheering her on and clapping for her every little achievement. Soon she will be walking around like this picture I found on a google search of images: zombie cell phone picture. Why do we stop cheering accomplishments? I think the reason we stop is because some people erroneously thought the rewards were supposed to be tangible. I read a great book on the Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. I took the author’s ideas about adults and paired them with my ten years of research on students. For ten years, I have been asking students this question: “What would mean the world to you?

What could an adult give you that would let you know you had done a good job? By the way, it can’t cost anything.” Based on their answers, here is what I think:

I believe your rewards should come from all these areas:

1) Quality time with adults and peers

2) Escape from a task or chore

3) Earning special privileges

4) Physical touch- like high fives or special handshakes

5) Earning leadership roles

6) Social praise

7) Special assistance (help with a chore, task, etc.)

8) Tangibles

Notice: Tangibles are last. Many reward programs focus on tangibles first and I believe children want attention and recognition much more than they truly want tangibles. The answers I get are amazingly simple. Students and children want us to notice them and give them time and attention.

Here’s my most poignant story.

I was riding a bus in a major metropolitan city. The matron on the bus walked up to me in the middle of the route and told me the boy behind me was the number one worst student on the bus (a middle school student with his hood pulled up over his head) and the student across the seat from him was the second worst student on the bus. After I thought the students had time to calm down from hearing the matron say these horrible things about them, I turned around and said, “You know, I’m not really here looking for bad kids. I’m a researcher and I’m here to train the bus drivers. But I do have a question for you, if you want to answer it. I asked the boys the question above. The first young man sat with his head down for a bit and then he took down his hood and I saw the most adorable middle school dimple faced young man looking at me. He started talking in an animated voice. He said, “Oh my gosh, I see people throw footballs and when they throw them, the footballs go straight. When I throw a football it goes all wonky. If someone could teach me how to throw a football straight. That would mean the world to me.” (This…..??????? is the worst kid on the bus) The second young man said (and I quote) “I suck at spelling. If somebody could teach me that i after e stuff (he really needed to know the rule there) that would really help because I can’t spell anything. That would mean a lot to me.”

I have heard things like, “Tell me you appreciate the fact that I got up and came to school today.” “Write a job recommendation for me.” “Play checkers with me, like my dad used to.” (from a little boy whose father had passed away unexpectedly.) It’s really pretty simple. The kids don’t really want the stickers, the candy bars, or the little toys in the McDonald’s Happy Meals. They want our eyeballs on them.

Here is my research- there are sections for parents, teachers, and administrators.

If you go to the material section and scroll down to rewards you will find 32 pages of free rewards which is the second link. I also have separated out 100 ways parents can reward their children at home for good behavior at school.

I’m sure this post will pick up a troll who still thinks children should not be rewarded or recognized for good behavior. I have two questions for you?

“How is that working out for you in your setting?”
“Do you work for free?”
I did have a troll once in an earlier post who wrote me and said my “stuff” (he didn’t call it that) was pure garbage. When he wanted to get kids to do things, he just twisted their arms up behind their backs and they did exactly what he wanted them to do. I told him that if I knew who he was, I would turn him over to the authorities.

Check out the free rewards page- you will see the kinds of things on there that students and kids have told me they would like. They just want recognition, attention, help, and maybe just a little fun in their day.