What Do You Think? Rewarding Good Behavior, Part II

Yesterday I asked about rewarding good behavior. My specific question was this:

What makes the societal reward system acceptable compared to the negativity associated with parenting reward systems?

As I’ve thought about this for a few days, I still don’t know that I have an answer. I find it difficult to find one acceptable without finding both acceptable. The inverse is also true; if one is unacceptable, shouldn’t both be unacceptable?

The answer lies, then, in the truest form of a reward based system, and that would be the one that the Lord uses. And yes, that means I’m adjusting the question: The real question should be what makes the Lord’s rewards system acceptable compared to the parenting reward systems?

The gospel is quite clear that the Lord operates on what is essentially a reward system. On the simplest of levels, this can be summed up as saying: Do good, go to heaven. Do bad, go to hell.

And yes, that is a reward system. Going deeper, however, we see several clear examples of reward systems in the scriptures, for example:

Alma 36:1–For I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.

This phrase, or one very similar to it, appears in theBook of Mormonroughly twenty times.

In verse 3 of the same chapter, we read:

For I do know that whosoever shall put their atrust in God shall be supported in their btrials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be clifted up at the last day.

Is not this also a reward system? If you do this, I will do this. Also note that the reward system does NOT remove trials and troubles.

Similar to these isDoctrine & Covenants 82:10, which states:

I, the Lord, am abound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no bpromise.

In other words, keep my commandments and I will bless you.

Interestingly enough, we see this same expression said differently earlier in this section. From verse 3:

For of him unto whom amuch is bgiven much is crequired; and he who dsins against the greater elight shall freceive the greater gcondemnation.

In other words, rewards should lead to good behavior. Note also that this scripture states quite clearly that bad behavior also has it’s own reward system built in.

And leave us not forget these marvelous verses from Matthew 5:3-12….

aBlessed are the bpoor in spirit: for theirs is the ckingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that amourn: for they shall be bcomforted.

Blessed are the ameek: for they shall inherit the bearth.

Blessed are they which do ahunger and thirst after brighteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the amerciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the apure in bheart: for they shall csee God.

Blessed are the apeacemakers: for they shall be called the bchildren of God.

Blessed are they which are apersecuted for brighteousness’ sake: for ctheirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall arevile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of bevil against you falsely, cfor my sake.

aRejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your breward in heaven: for so cpersecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Each of these verses highlights a very clear behavior/attitude/attribute followed by a reward. In fact, check out that last verse again:

aRejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your breward in heaven.

Great is your reward in heaven….

Clearly the Lord operates on a reward system, and as such I cannot disregard the value of a using a similar system in my own life.

So what, if any, is the difference between this system and one you would run as a parent? At this point, I have to think that it falls into two possibilities that come readily to mind: The Purpose of the reward system AND the Manner  of those rewards.


The Lord’s purpose in His reward system is quite clear: Bless us. Moses 1:39 clearly teaches this:

For behold, this is my awork and my bglory—to bring to pass the cimmortality and deternal elife of man.

All that God does is designed for our own growth and benefit.

Truman G. Madsen stated that intelligence is a synonym for glory in this verse. In the gospel, intelligence is often seen as the very core and being of existence. If you read that verse in that light, it changes to something that is even more powerful than the original:

For behold, this is my work and my very existence, the very core of my being–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

When read in that light, it is quite clear that we, the children of God, are not just a hobby that God has on the side. We are everything to Him.

God’s reward system truly is a tool He uses to bless us as fully and completely as possible within an acceptable range for the work we’ve done. His system quite obviously does NOT overly compensate us for works that are not worthy of the reward. Yes, the atonement still applies, but we are wrong if we assume that the reward in heaven will overcome sins and misdeeds that we have not worked to right. Speaking of these, Nephi said:

2 Nephi 28:8 And there shall also be many which shall say: aEat, drink, and be bmerry; nevertheless, fear God—he will cjustify in committing a little dsin; yea, elie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a fpit for thy neighbor; there is gno harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

For our own reward systems to be fully beneficial to our children, we should pattern them after the Lord’s reward system. Our purpose must be for the growth and perfection of the child, for the long-term benefit of the child, AND the rewards should match the effort and behavior of the child. I would also suggest that we would be perfectly clear of our goals with our children.

As shown above, God has clearly stated what His purpose is (our immortality and eternal life). Do our children clearly know what our purposes are when we try to reward them for good behavior (or any act for that matter)?

Manner and Attitude

Courtney pointed out that the Lord often runs His rewards His own way and also in very passive ways that often go unnoticed. For example, obedience doesn’t always bring a tangible reward. The reward often times is just the knowledge that we are doing well.

Courtney mentioned that obeying the Word of Wisdom, as an example, is largely a passive reward system. The benefit comes naturally from obedience to the law. The benefits are very real, but they are largely unnoticed until compared to someone who has not chosen to live that law.

To steal one more of her thoughts, rewards are often shown in just the ability to make decisions and have freedom. To explain… if you steal a car, you’ve pretty much narrowed your choices down to a very small range of options. If you don’t steal the car, you’ve got a lot of choices. In this case, the reward is the lack of punishment and the openness of choices. In other words, the reward isn’t necessarily a pat on the back (“Good job, Dave! You somehow made it through yet another day without stealing a car or robbing the bank!!! Have a cookie!), as much as it is the continuation of life in a normal, comfortable way. To say it yet another way, not every good deed needs to be rewarded visibly. Sometimes the reward is simply the lack of punishment.

So manner…. Obviously the manner of the reward (sometimes passive, sometimes benign, sometimes long-term) matters. Every good deed is rewarded, but not every reward is public, tangible, or easily recognized.


As I look across reward systems, I think I often see a lack of defined purpose and manner in parental systems. And the two go hand in hand. Manner matters, but only when combined with a purpose. Purpose matters, but only when combined with the right manner. I also think I see a disparity between the value of the reward compared to the value of the behavior. It’s one thing to give a big hug and a sticker to your child when he finally sits on the potty and another to run out and buy him a toy every single time he does. The first speaks to his value as a person; the second speaks to the value of the toy.

I do think reward systems have a place–a big place–in helping our children. I think, as a parent, that reward systems are valuable, but they should be natural, they should be adequate to the needs of the child, and they should match a stated purpose. Lastly, for any reward system to be fully beneficial, the primary goal must be the benefit of the recipient, not the benefit of the giver.

To go back to potty training: our goal with rewarding our son for his potty training efforts is NOT to stop changing or buying diapers, although both of those are great benefits. Rather, the whole purpose is to help him gain a valuable skill that he’ll need as he grows.

It’s for him, not for me.

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5 Responses to What Do You Think? Rewarding Good Behavior, Part II

  1. Pingback: RECOGNIZING YOUR REAL SELF AS BLESSED (LESSON 7) « Vine and Branch World Ministries

  2. aleisha says:

    nice….so, how do you apply that when katherine is not wanting to get ready for the day and stacks breakables in the grocery cart?

    • daveloveless says:

      Now ain’t that the question….

      My very first thought is that our actions and responses so far have NOT been about her. They’ve been about us. They’ve been about controlling the situation and making a comfortable life for us. So that attitude should change, number one.

      Something else we noticed is that a lot of her behavior changes when we, as parents, take the right amount of time to recognize her and work with her. She still delays and doesn’t necessarily go at the speed we’d like to see, but she does go.

      Another thought that I’ve had is that sometimes we could probably help clarify the task or break it up. We’ll say things like “Get ready!” but what does that mean? Or, perhaps just as bad, we’ll recite a whole list of things she needs to do in order to get ready, which we could probably improve by simply giving her one or two tasks at a time.

      I don’t think that we institute a formalized reward program in regards to these particular behaviors, but there is obviously a natural system already in place.

      One thing Courtney does that I appreciate is she’ll sit down with Katherine post-error/bad experience and talk about what happened and how things could have been different.

      These are just a few of the thoughts I have as of now, but I’d welcome more.

  3. aleisha says:

    i love your self reflection and I TOTALLY think what you have mentioned is worth trying.

    specifically, breaking things down to one at a time “job” (in behavior management research they say the age of the child is what they can manage in “time out” or chores without supervision. so if katherine is 7, then give her 7 (or less) minutes to manage and then check on her. (obviously play time is a WAY different time scale),

    next, spending more time with her doing the things you want her to do. like you have said “get ready” can mean a lot of different things on the day, so spending her time repeating what is happening to get ready is a way to teach her what that phrase means.

    and, making it about her needs, not your needs. It is SO inconvenient to spend the time explaining things a bajillion times until they get it….but just think of it as an average of 18 years and it doesn’t become so bad! that way when she is 18, she can behavior manage herself with confidence!

    I think what i was trying to say in my other comments is that responsibility and integrity are the end goal…not a checklist of behaviors and your reflection is totally in accordance with that. Then the natural reward is confidence, trust, love and you don’t need to add more reward!

    good luck and let me know how it goes!

  4. Lora says:

    I have been hesitant about reward systems at times too, but there’s no denying that we all work on some sort of reward system. Hopefully as we age we move toward more intrinsic rewards, but still.

    Not sure if this will help, but I thought I’d throw it out there: My first grade class also struggled with time management, especially during transitions, cleaning up, etc. I wanted them to use our time more wisely and I wanted them to understand natural consequences of their choices… so I explained to them how they were wasting a portion of our time at that point (not following directions, wandering around, getting sidetracked with other activities). Then I told them how that time could be used more effectively if they completed their tasks as directed… and how I would be willing to give them back some of that time for their own use if they began using it more wisely in the first place. My kids really liked to have relaxing time to talk together and play games. So I gave them a time limit for how long it “should” take them to complete an activity (usually cleaning up or transitioning between something like recess and math). I erred on the generous side at first to give them a better chance to succeed. I set a timer during those activities and then let them know how they did. If they didn’t use all the time, that time became part of their “brain break” later in the day. If they used more than their allotted time, it subtracted from that time. My kids began averaging about 5-7 minutes of “brain break” time each day. And it was a BIG deal to them. They encouraged each other to use their time better, they helped one another, and they were on Cloud 9 when they succeeded. I gave them ideas to help when they did not. “Brain Break” time could have been anything that the kids were excited about– special time with a certain adult, outside recess time, whatever. I just wanted them to see that they could do better things with their time. I’m not sure how this would work at home vs. school, and I’m not sure if it’s something that Katherine would be excited about, but your post reminded me of this experience. Good luck! By the way, I think it’s great that you and Courtney are so purposeful in your parenting.

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