Do you use reward charts, bribes, threats and punishment in order to have your children do what you want them to do? Are you always encouraging your child if they do x then they will get y? We’ve all been guilty of it, especially if we are at our wits end and nothing is working to get our child to do what we just need them to do! And here’s the thing! There is nothing wrong with it when used sparingly and consciously.

However, as a long-term strategy for children co-operation, it can cause its own set of repercussions.

Extrinsic motivation relies on the child always being told what to do and being motivated by things outside of themselves. Do we want our children to treat others nicely because they fear punishment or because they want to be nice and feel good about themselves? Do we want children to eat all their veggies because of the promised treat at the end of their meal or because we want them to learn what is good for their body? What happens when rewards, punishments and bribes are not there to be offered? How does a child then make a decision to obtain a positive outcome?

We won’t always be around for our children, and they grow away from us as soon as they are placed in the care of others. This happens naturally at school and I believe the more intrinsically motivated we teach them to be, the better off they will be when we are not around in making the right choices.

I have seen massive improved results when I changed my parenting to align with motivating my children intrinsically. And I was literally blown away when my then 4-year-old declined a 3rd of his favourite biscuits because 2 was too much and his body has had enough. I was speechless when my 7-year-old recently declined cake at a party as his tummy was full! Again, listening to his body and me trusting he knows what is best for him.

Here are a few things I have implemented to encourage them to be motivated internally:

  • Use positive language. Words like remember rather than don’t forget. I will use the example of tree climbing. If we told our child “don’t fall”, 1. We are commanding them and 2. We are in effect telling them not to trust their body. They are most likely to fall as the brain does not distinguish between the don’t and fall. This can be rephrased into “Trust your body to know what to do right now”. Think of the situations where you can give the power back to a child in trusting themselves to make the right choices.
  • Ask them back what they think when they pose a question, rather than always giving them an answer. Example: “Mum can I have a snack?” My reply would be along the lines of “what does your body say? Do you need one?” And if the answer is yes, then I ask, “what healthy snack could you feed it?”. This always puts it back on them to think for themselves and rely less on me to meet their needs.
  • Encourage learning from mistakes. When a child is terrified to make mistakes, they will forever be seeking validation from the outside. Mistakes are made so we could learn from them. How we react to them is what matters most.
  • Allow natural consequences to happen. Children learn from cause and effect. In our need to protect them, we don’t allow them to fall and learn how to get back up. Then out of context, talk about the situation and empower them to think how they can
  • Use rewards minimally. If a young child does not want to brush their teeth, make that ok but it means there will be no more sweets. Explain why, as it rots the teeth and if no brushing is happening, we want to minimize the effects of ruining teeth.
  • Compliment the behaviour not the child. When our child does something nice for somebody or achieves something, rather than make it about them like “oh you are so clever”, think of saying ”that was so clever” It makes it more about the outcome and less about them. Their worth is then not attached to their achievements but rather their efforts.


Using punishment and rewards may achieve quick results but they are only short term and wear off quite quickly! Think about the humans you are raising and what you want them to achieve in life and parent accordingly.

If you have any questions you can email me at marilou@orchestrate.cc

Guest Blogger Bio:

My name is Marilou and I am a mother of two beautiful young boys aged three and five. My mission is to create a safe and supportive environment for children of all ages. To do this I believe we, as a society must support parents, carers and educators in various forms.

I focus on the three fundamentals of life, mind, body and heart and apply everything I teach to support these three fundamentals. I coach parents and educators as well as mentor children as young as nine years.

My mission is also to connect and centralise all support for parents and educators in the one place.

Visit Marilou at mariloucoombe.com

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