Parents often resort to bribery to get their children to read, but studies show rewards backfire. “If you pay kids to read you’ll get them to read,” said Edward Deci, the author of “Why We Do What We Do” and a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “They’ll continue to read until you end the experiment, and then they’ll stop.” Rewards encourage children to think of reading as something you have to be paid to do, not something that brings pleasure in itself, he says.
Timing is important when it comes to developing reading fluency.
Fumiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, has found that the growth of particular neural pathways when children are young is critical to reading success.
If parents do want to offer rewards for reading, Dr. Briggs said, they don’t necessarily have to be money, treats or toys: “It could be that it’s a special thing to go to the library with Dad, and that the alone time is part of what’s rewarding about it.” Such nonmaterial rewards may be the most effective.
The “bribe” of an excursion with a parent, or of special time reading together or discussing a book, conveys the importance of reading, said Dr. Ryan. “When we set aside time for reading, or set limits on other activities, we’re showing our children that we support them in developing an important skill.”