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The Problem with Reward Certificates

“Mummy? Guess what I’ve got?” Sophie’s sing song voice calls from the front door. I’m in the kitchen feeding Oliver and can just imagine her cheeky smile and wide eyes, giving a sideways look as she says it. I reply as singsongy as her, “What is it?” Somehow I don’t quite get the pitch or rhythm right and I sound less like a sweet nightingale and more like a squawking rooster choking on its own feathers.

I hear her footsteps skip through the kitchen on the laminate flooring to where I am sitting. She shoves an A4 piece of paper in front of my face, narrowly missing having it smeared with Cow & Gate’s Pea, Potato and Cod puree. “I got Star of the Day…. AGAIN!” her face is beaming as she squeals in delight. “Wow! That’s fantastic, Darling!” I quickly rack my sleep-deprived brain to try and remember all the positive and affirming things I’m meant to say and do in situations like these, before I miss the opportune moment and emotionally ruin her forever. “I’m so proud of you! Well done! You’re MY little star every day!” I beam at her with my biggest smile, giving her my undivided attention and a massive hug.

Sophie drinks in all the praise and attention, “I got it because I was playing nicely and was a good friend.”

“That’s fantastic! You really are a good friend. I see how nicely you play when your friends come here.” I continue with all the comments of affirmation making sure I add in the fact that I know she’s a good friend EVERY day and plays nicely EVERY day. You see, I have a small issue with these reward certificates.

Ever since they introduced the Star of the Day, Sophie has been coming home every day from school understandably upset that she didn’t get a certificate. She has even gone so far as to say, “I must have been naughty, Mummy.” If she didn’t get one. So, despite the fact I’m sure the teacher’s purpose behind the certificates is to encourage good behaviour, my fear is that ultimately it’s doing the opposite. The children who are behaving well most of the time are disappointed for not being recognised as such and lose the motivation for good behaviour, rather than just seeing it as a normal expectation.

Sophie puts the certificate on top of her other one on the fridge door, securing it with a magnet and goes to play with her mini kitchen. I continue the process of coaxing fishy smelling puree into Oliver’s mouth.

“Mummy, I swung Emily round with her ears today.”

I stop in my tracks. “What?!”

She looks at me, “But I won’t do it again!”

“Did you hurt Emily? Did she want you to do it?” Not quite sure why a four year old would want her ears to be pulled.

“Yes, she was hurt. But I said sorry and I won’t do it again…. and I threw sand in Megan’s eyes, but I won’t do it again!”

“And this was today? When you got Star of the Day for playing nicely and being a good friend?!”

“Yes, but the teacher didn’t see me so it’s okay!”

I hold my head in my hands…. I rest my case.


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