When I teach kids, I will sometimes challenge them to accomplish something or allow them to compete in some way. Inevitably, one of them will ask “What do we get?”. Parents, schools, even extra-curricular activities give awards for anything and everything. Some even reward children for doing the bare minimum of what used to be considered common good behavior.
While this is not an article on entitlement, too many rewards can create children who expect to be rewarded for everything they do. It can create laziness, because why bother to do your best if you are rewarded for any minimal effort at all. It can create pride and destroy realistic expectations of what one can achieve with one’s current skills and knowledge. They can even create an attitude that doing what is right or expected will only be done when the reward is present – remove the reward and the behavior disappears.
In short, too many rewards cause more problems than they solve. Yet, rewards persist in our society. There are actually some good things that can come from using limited rewards. In fact, whether you realize it or not, the Bible addresses the subject of rewards – especially in the New Testament. What can the Bible teach Christian parents about using rewards in healthy ways?
- Most Rewards Are Conditional. We don’t like to admit it in our culture, but if you want to go to Heaven, there are conditions. Yes, grace definitely enters the equation – yet, if and only if, we obey God by becoming Christians and doing our best to follow His commands (Acts 2:38 and others.) do we enter Heaven. As far as we can tell from scripture, there is no “Get-into-Heaven-even though you rejected God and did anything you wanted your entire life” reward from God. You should avoid giving your kids lots of rewards, “just because”, especially when what they are doing is actually disobedient or disrespectful. They receive plenty of those from the regular blessings you provide them. If you decide to give your kids a reward, give them specific requirements for earning it.
- Earning Rewards Usually Takes Time. With some exceptions, most of us will live long lives as Christians before dying and going to Heaven. We agree to be Christians for the long haul, because we know the reward is worth working towards for years and even decades if we are blessed to live that long after our baptism. (Hebrews 6:10-12 and others.) You probably don’t want to make the period quite that long for your kids, but it should be long enough to force them to stretch and grow a bit.
- Earning Rewards is Challenging. Let’s be honest. Living the Christian life isn’t always easy. It would be much easier at times to just give up and do whatever we want to do. Yet if we want the reward, we have to keep trying. (Hebrews 10:34-36 and others.) I am not a big fan of giving rewards for every little thing. Sometimes though, what you are asking of your child is hard. Knowing there is a reward at the end if they can persevere will give some kids the encouragement they need to complete the task.
- Reminders of Possible Rewards Are Given Regularly. Do a quick search for Bible verses talking about Heaven or our reward from God. There are quite a few of them. God knows when the task to earn the reward is tough, we need regular reminders of the reward for completing the task that is so difficult. If you set a reward for your child, encourage him/her regularly while he/she is working towards the goal. (This is not nagging, but encouragement!)
- Award or Withhold Rewards as Promised. God keeps His Promises. Period. Yes, the Israelites sin caused a delay in their conquest of the Promised Land, but the nation finally did reach it. One of the worst mistakes parents can make with rewards is to forget to give the promised reward or to ignore the fact their child did not put any effort into reaching the task and give the reward any way. Note in the parable of the laborers, (God) gave each exactly what He promised them and the workers worked hard the entire time they were employed. (Matthew 10:1-16.)
- Sometimes Rewards Are Just Because We Are Loved. Ever had a tough day and God gave you something you didn’t expect, didn’t ask for, but was exactly what you needed to encourage you? God also provides for our many “regular” blessings like food or the beautiful nature surrounding us. The Bible even says he sends rain to the “just” and the “unjust”. We didn’t do anything to earn these, they were just given to us freely. Our kids should randomly experience something similar from us. Not for every scraped knee or rough day, but sometimes a little pick-me-up reward can change everything for your child. Remember though, to be effective, these need to be random and infrequent. Of course, you should always meet your child’s basic physical, emotional, mental and especially spiritual needs. Love is a reward that should never be limited!
Take some time to think about how you are using rewards in your house. Are they over used? Are they causing more problems than they are solving? Using these tips can help you give rewards that will actually achieve what you want them to achieve.