Early Experiences Matter

Get Connected
Please leave this field empty
orLogin
why should I register?

FOLLOW US! faceook linktwitter linklinkedin link

SUPPORT US

Donate - Support Us


Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

I started giving my 2-year-old a cookie once in a while when he would help me put away his toys. Now he expects a treat every time.

Q:I started giving my 2-year-old a cookie once in a while when he would help me put away his toys. But I’ve created the Cookie Monster! Now he expects a treat every time. Should I always give him a reward for good behavior?

A:  Most of us have grappled with this issue of rewards when struggling to get our children to cooperate. The concern about material rewards is that they motivate children to make good choices in order to receive a prize, rather than for the pleasure of "doing the right thing" and feeling cooperative and helpful. Another concern is that children begin to expect a reward for even the smallest task. (You say, Time to brush teeth. He says, What will you give me?) And, when they don’t receive a reward, they wonder what they have done wrong.

It is important that children experience a positive outcome for good behavior. But the key is that it is logically connected to the behavior, and that it happens as close as possible to the event; for example, getting 5 more minutes of playtime right after he cooperates with dressing to go to child care because he saved you time chasing him around to get his clothes on. Giving a child a cookie for helping to clean up his toys is not very useful in the long run because there is no connection between chocolate chips and neat shelves. On the other hand, reading an extra book before bed because he cooperated with tooth-brushing and getting pajamas on can be a powerful incentive. It helps to reinforce to your child that good things happen when you cooperate, take on responsibility, and make good choices. Just be sure that your expectations are in line with your child’s developmental age and stage.

Of course, the best reward is to boost your son’s self-esteem by telling him how proud you are when he has made a good choice and pointing out how his actions were helpful and important. You put all the clothes back in your drawer. You are doing such a wonderful job keeping your room clean and helping Mommy, too! Thanks.

FIND IT FAST

RELATED INFORMATION

When my 2-year-old gets really angry and has a tantrum, she will bump her head against the wall.
Read More
My three-year-old son has started to play with his penis. How should I handle this?
Read More
Sometimes, when I try to explain to my 35-month-old the reason why we have certain rules she seems to understand and accept it, while other times she has a tantrum. Why is that?
Read More
What should I do when my 2 1/2-year-old won’t share her toys with our 8-month-old?
Read More

Explore our Parenting Resources


Coming Together Around Military FamiliesNational Training InstituteEarly Head StartEarly Head Start

Home   |   Careers   |   Permissions   |   Contact Us   |   Tell a Friend   |     |   Privacy Policy

Copyright © 2014 ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families
1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 350, Washington, DC 20037 | Phone: (202) 638-1144 | Fax: (202) 638-0851

All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, go to www.zerotothree.org/reprints