Should Parents Reward Their Children?
For many years there's been a debate about rewarding our children. Does it work? Is it effective? If so, what kind of rewards should be used?
To use rewards, we establish a standard with our kids and give them something for meeting this standard. Punishment is given out in much the same way, but it's used when certain standards of performance, behavior, etc. have not been met.
The problem here is not that rewards and punishments don't have immediate results. They often do have quick results. Kids often will become more obedient when threatened with punishment, and work hard when promised a valuable reward.
The problem is what happens when you aren't around.
To develop responsible, self-disciplined kids, parents need to promote certain ideas. One of these ideas is that everyone pitches in and helps in your family, even if you're not crazy about helping. Another idea is that there can be enjoyment in doing any task if we choose to make it so. When a task is for a worthy cause (our family can enjoy the house more because I helped clean it), and when parents are cheerful about their chores, this message can have a big impact.
This is how we help our kids develop an intrinsic sense of responsibility. When our children develop this responsibility, they'll be more disciplined, and they'll control their emotions better. When we give rewards to our kids, we reduce this intrinsic sense of responsibility. We also create children who may temporarily perform to a certain standard, but who aren't likely to continue the performance without the carrot dangling in front of them. These kinds of values must come from inside them.
In his book, Punished by Rewards, author Alfie Kohn writes, "But if we are ultimately concerned with the kind of people our children will become, there are no shortcuts. Good values have to be grown from the inside out. Rewards and punishment can change behavior (for a while), but they cannot change the person who engages in the behavior, at least in the way we want. No behavioral manipulation ever helped a child develop a commitment to become a caring and responsible person. No reward for doing something we approve of ever gave a child a reason for continuing to act that way when there was no longer any reward to be gained for doing so."
Here are some action steps for parents concerning rewards:
- Look at how you are doing or not doing rewards now. Are you promising candy for behaving well at grandma's house? Even the smallest rewards now can set the table for bigger expectations by your kids in the future.
- Start giving your kids tasks that they can be responsible for at a very early age. Treat them as thought they're capable, and be consistent. This is the best way to avoid future "chore conflicts" in your family.
- Talk often about how you are a family that works together and cooperates with each other in order to complete the tasks that need to be done.
- Use subtle rewards with your kids. "As soon as you clean up you can go to grandmas," can work very well. "If you clean up I'll give you some candy," will usually end up biting you in the rear later on.
Parents can help give their children a sense of shared responsibility and discipline which can last a lifetime. And they can give them a sense of entitlement which may last a lifetime as well. The real rewards that your children receive will be their readiness for the complex and demanding world that awaits them-- a world that rewards those who have learned the secrets of discipline responsibility.
So keep those shiny carrots to yourself, and let your kids find their own rewards.
Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches fathers by phone to balance their life and improve family relationships—immediately! He is an Instructor for the Academy for Coaching Parents, author of "Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers" and related Ecourses.