Potty training? Just create a sticker chart and give a skittle for each time your child goes to the bathroom. Want to encourage your child to read more? Pay them. Get better grades and we can go out for a big celebration… Reward systems are everywhere we look in childhood but do they actually work?
If reward systems work what are they really teaching our children?
It’s summer-time and that means summer reading programs. I’m sure you’ve seen them too, keep track of your reading and get prizes at the library for how many books, pages, days, etc you read. Sounds like a great way to encourage kids to read more right? Unfortunately, it’s not, and it can impede a child’s desire to actually want to read even if they enjoyed reading before.
Instead of your child learning what you are hoping for, to love reading, your child learns that he needs to be extrinsically motivated to read or he won’t want to. Rewards impede values. When kids learn to do something in exchange for a reward, they miss out on the inherent value of that thing. In fact, studies have shown that when the rewards stop, the behavior that we’re trying to reward stops also. So, in many cases, once you stop paying a child to read, they stop reading as much.
The same goes for general behavior. If you stop giving a gold star for being kind, they might stop being as kind. They will start to do things because they think they will earn a reward, and not simply because it’s the interesting, exciting, or meaningful thing to do.
“Research and logic suggest that punishment and rewards are not really opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Both strategies amount to ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior–in one case, prompting the question, ‘What do they want me to do, and what happens to me if I don’t do it?’, and in the other instance, leading a child to ask, ‘What do they want me to do, and what do I get for doing it?’ Neither strategy helps children to grapple with the question, ‘What kind of person do I want to be?’” – Alfie Kohn.
Rewards not only impede value-driven behavior they also impeded achievement. Studies have shown that people who expect to receive a reward for completing a task or doing it successfully do not perform as well as those who expect nothing.Rather than rewarding children for what they do in life, let's help our children create lives that are rewarding.via @ParentingJunkieTweet This
But, you’re saying, sticker charts work, I’ve seen it! Yes, they do work for the short term. They motivate the child to get the reward. When you reward your child for the behavior once they’re going to expect a reward the next time. Tests and grades are a similar reward system. Most people assume high test scores determine a lot about a child’s future when in fact they only determine one thing, that the child will most likely score high on future tests. Not that they truly know the information or could apply it meaningfully in the future.
So if sticker charts and reward systems aren’t the answer what is? How do we encourage our children to reach their goals? To develop their moral compass? To achieve greatness? How do we help toddlers achieve potty independence, kids develop their literacy, or teens to be household helpers if we can’t pay them gold stars or gold coins to do it?
All is not lost, there is a way!
- Set Goals Together
Ensure that the goals you have in mind are age and stage appropriate for you child. Discuss what you would love to improve about your family or one person’s behavior. Leave it as an open discussion. State the issue and ask what you can do together or how you can help your child achieve the desired result.
For example, if mornings are a constant struggle to leave on time your conversation could be: “Hey, I’ve noticed that we have really stressed, rushed mornings together, and I find myself nagging at you and repeating myself to get you to get ready on time. Is there something that we could do to help you make sure you’re ready on time? How do you think we could solve this problem together? What do you need from me to make sure “that we’re ready on time, by the door?”
You will have so much more success in achieving your goals, whatever they may be, if your child is actually brought into the conversation and their voice matters. If they’re in on your plan, and on the same page as you, it’s gonna flow so much easier, and the achievements will be greater and more meaningful.
Be sure to remember to keep your expectations in check. If the goal is too big or too difficult, adjust accordingly. Also remember that we are all human. Do you manage to go to the gym every single day? Are you kind to your partner 100% of the time? I know I’m not. We don’t set unrealistically high expectations of ourselves and we shouldn’t hold our children to those standards either.
- Show appreciation
Instead of using a reward system and dangling prizes, gold stars, and other rewards only to take them away if your child doesn’t perform go the authentic route. Whenever they’re kind, use gentle hands with their sibling, tidy their room, or help out show genuine appreciation. Remember appreciation is not the same as praise (for more on that checkout this post). State your appreciation just as you would to anyone else who helped you out. Thank you, that was really helpful. I really appreciate that you did that. Everyone likes to be thanked for the effort they put in.
- Encouragement and celebration
Celebration is when we honor and mark someone’s achievements by joining them in their pride. Encouragement and celebration are things that we can offer children authentically every step of the way. When they’re struggling, we can encourage them. And when they overcome we can celebrate with them. To help this sink in for your child, you can reflect back to them – how does it feel for you? You did it! You tried your best, you must be proud!
You can celebrate achievements with a dance party, a fun pillow fight, or a hike to a favorite place instead of paying your child or rewarding them in some way for their services.
It is great to mark our successes, to pause and fully enjoy them, to celebrate them, to encourage children to achieve their goals and be the best versions of themselves they can be. Let’s not dangle rewards, trophies, stickers, praise and prizes in front of them and make them jump through hoops in order to get them. Let’s not undermine and squelch their inherent, intrinsic motivation, curiosity, passion and interest. Let’s trust in their good will, and let’s support them with encouragement when they’re floundering, with acknowledgement and appreciation when they’re contributing, and with celebration for their wins.
I’d love to hear from you! Have you used a reward system in the past or are you currently using one? Can you find ways to set goals with your child, appreciate them, and celebrate with them instead of using the sticker chart? Please leave your comments below or over in our (free & awesome) FB community Love Parenting with Avital
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