Why using rewards and consequences can make children vulnerable

Why using rewards and consequences can make children vulnerable 150 150 Jane Evans

Nothing like kicking off a big debate on a Sunday morning by posting,

“Using rewards can make children more vulnerable to ‘rewards’ or ‘gifts’ being offered online by sexual predators.”

I didn’t do it lightly. I did do it to provoke a serious debate with early years professionals in Laura Henry’s Early Years Safeguarding and Child Protection Facebook Group.

Why would I link reward charts and losing ‘golden time’ with online sexual grooming?

On the surface it may seem a bit ‘over the top.’ However, as professionals I firmly believe our job is to extend our thinking beyond accepting hand me down systems which do not serve children. It’s 2018 and we need to up our game!

Using an external, top-down system of control does not serve children well. It teaches them that anyone with power, has control, so best do as they say or avoid them if at all possible.  Those who often take a long time to groom children are well aware of how to use this internalized ‘learning’ to their advantage when it comes to engaging with and manipulating children. We know the power of learning within unconditional relationships which send a clear message to a child, “all of you is acceptable, all of the time so you can ALWAYS come to me for support.”

Key messages rewards, consequences and praise send to children

  1. You need to follow adult rules, or else…
  2. Your job is to earn connection and praise as then adults like you
  3. Adults decide when you have been good or bad, done well, or could have done better
  4. You must do as you are asked by those you depend wholly upon and can’t escape
  5. Your instincts, feelings, views or input are the least important thing
  6. At any moment you may ‘be in trouble’
  7. Shame is painful and uncomfortable
  8. Adults can use their power over you at any time
  9. You won’t have enough communication or emotional intelligence to cope with, process or share your feelings

Conditions impact children’s self-worth, emotional intelligence, mental and physical wellbeing, capacity to trust their instincts, confidence and so much more. Ditching a power and control-based system is a must as it reduces their development and trust of internal signals and signs of safety or threat. If adults repeatedly over ride these, children will learn to as well. Ultimately this makes them more vulnerable as they are left with a weakened internal alarm system and little belief in it.

What is the alternative?

Compassionate curiosity and connection with a safe, caring adult so children are regulated enough, often enough to be able to learn as their brains continue to wire up based on the experiences and responses they get. After all, nature has gifted children, with a natural need, and desire, to be connected with caring adults in order to feel safe and learn about themselves, others and life in all its glory.

Really??…Yep, children will do well when they can BUT with vastly under developed brains they struggle in many areas so need us to teach them how to understand others have feelings, as do they. That If they wait or let another have a turn it might feel stressful but they will be OK, and so much more.

Adults need a mind shift away from labeling behaviour as good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable

Why? Because children take on “I AM GOOD/BAD, ACCEPTABLE/UNACCEPTABLE.” This happens quickly, and other children pick up on it too and can tell anyone who the ‘naughty child’ is in a setting.

Behaviour is the window to the child’s emotional, physical and developmental needs in the moment. Impulse control doesn’t fully mature until late 20’s so we expect far too much from children and make them miserable. 

A sticker or a lost playtime does not build a child’s insight into how they were feeling before something happened or when they ‘shared’. Rewards and consequences end the process as the child becomes fixated on getting or avoiding them. They also lose connection with their inner world and don’t get access to anyone else’s either.

Let’s do this together!

Make a pledge to make all early year’s settings reward and consequence free places that focus instead on learning through connection.

Access additional knowledge and support so you feel able to put change into practice and help parents feel safe with it too.


  • The drive children have to learn within emotionally safe UNCONDITIONAL relationships.
  • The work of Alfie Kohn (a speaker at the Autumn early years safeguarding conference), and Stuart Shanker on self-regulation.
  • That children ALWAYS do the best they can.
  • That you are enough to help raise respectful, well-regulated children who fulfil their dreams, wishes and potential.
“Children don’t just need to be loved; they need to know that nothing they do will change the fact that they’re loved.”

Alfie KohnThe Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting

Safeguarding and Protecting Every Child 2018

The Third National Early Years Safeguarding and Child Protection Conference

Saturday 3rd November 2018

Interested in learning more?

Contact me today for a free consultation to explore your settings needs:

E:   janeevans61@hotmail.co.uk

M:  07455281247

Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans

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