Rewards: Friend Or Foe?

In my teaching days – in the bubble of my classroom – I had no idea that a controversy existed about whether or not rewards worked for children and young people with Pathological Demand Avoidance. Because the truth is, for me they were working. And for that reason I didn’t question whether they were right or wrong.

I’ve had Students come to me as school refusers, others come to me having not written for many years, and others whose behaviour has previously made them challenging to teach.

Without exception they have all made exceptional progress, and rewards are one of the ways I make this happen. Yes even with students with Pathological Demand Avoidance.

So when I started writing in the online space, I was staggered to hear the myth that rewards don’t work for individuals with PDA. 

Because the truth is they can work.

As long, that is, as you use them in a way that works for that individual. 

So Why Do Reward Schemes So Often Go Wrong?

Honestly – because most Reward schemes are set up with the needs of the parents, teachers and general environment in mind, rather than the needs of the young person involved. The best reward schemes are flexible, intuitive and individualised. There is no one sits fits all.

Rewards Should Not Be Used As A Bribe Or Beating Stick

They shouldn’t be used as a threat or ways to withhold something. And that is something you hear all too often ‘If you don’t do that – you won’t get your golden time’, ‘If you don’t do this – we won’t go to the park.’ Because the minute you do that, you have lost. You have turned your reward scheme into another demand, and by doing so have doomed it to failure.

Rewards Need To Be Delivered In A Low Key Way

The expectations of reward schemes should be clearly listed on paper, and placed somewhere for everyone to see. But opting into that reward scheme from the child’s point of view needs to be their choice. It needs to be something they want to do and something they feel that they have control of. 

Children Need To See That You Value Their Efforts

My reward schemes are usually set up almost like wages. After all, would you go to work without expecting a salary? So why shouldn’t our children get a ‘salary’ of their own for doing those tasks that they find most difficult? It isn’t bribery. It isn’t belittling. It is quite simply preparing our children for the future life they will have and simultaneously showing them we recognise how hard they are trying. After all, we all like to be told we have have done a good job – right?

Rewards Should Never Be Taken Away

Once a reward had been awarded it shouldn’t be taken away. Otherwise children and young people will simply stop trying. Being human means that it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to be consistently perfect. Taking a reward away is like someone taking away a month’s worth of wages because your car broke down on the way to work on the last day and you didn’t make it in. It’s doubtful that you would try very hard at your job the following month…

Don’t Throw The Baby Out With The Bathwater

For exactly the reasons mentioned above rewards shouldn’t rely on consecutive behaviour in order to be achieved. So reward charts or other schemes which rely on something being done each day of the week in order to receive a reward on the final day should be avoided. Instead allow children and young people to achieve their reward after any seven days – even if there have been gaps in the middle where tokens/ stickers haven’t been earned. This is particularly important for those with Pathological Demand Avoidance who will often self sabotage their own success in consecutive schemes as the reward becomes a demand.

What Type of Reward Scheme Is Best?

The truth is there is no one size fits all scheme, however listening to our Podcast episode about rewards will give you lots of different ideas and explain the considerations you might need to make when deciding on a reward scheme.

iPhone users click here to listen.

Android users click here to listen.

What Next?

Why not join us in our free #UNIQUEANDSUCCESSFUL Community to gain access to our free quarterly challenges and monthly live trainings full of strategies you can use at home.

Or join our mailing list to make sure you receive new strategies straight to your inbox every weekend:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy