Family life

Should we reward children?

Just like punishments, rewards are given to control children. The difference only lies in the fact that one is more positive than the other. We want the child to continue behaving well so we buy it in some way.

Many educators believe that our behavior and that of our children are motivated by an external stimulus. Rewards and punishments are both external motivations. But what will happen when there is not more external pressure? That is the main pitfall of rewards: addiction.

Annie promised to take Jasmine, her four-year-old daughter, to the dollar store on Friday if she was nice with her educator every day. What will we give her in ten years?

Congratulations are in order

Imagine that your child has made it through a challenge in school or in daycare or that his behaviour has improved with your encouragements, and your strategies to help him behave, and you want to give him a reward. Why don’t you aim for free things rather than rewards? You could first tell him how proud you are and congratulate him. That way, you tell him to do things for himself, because he is proud when he accomplishes something or gets better. Then you could add, "I'm so glad I would like to make you happy. Would you like us to play together in a game of your choice after dinner? " It is natural to want to please someone who has made us proud or happy. I do not reprimand this kind of natural instinct, so let's do it. What I like less is the concept of controlling such as "If you behave well at school this week, I'll buy your game on Saturday" or " If you're nice in daycare, we will eat ice cream after dinner."

Do you understand the difference? Children do. They learn to haggle. "What are you going to give me if I do this?" What about you? Does someone give you anything when you plan meals, prepare these meals, go shopping and do any other unpaid work? All this is free. Teach them about free things and being pleased to give, make others happy and think about others without forgetting ourselves.

When rewards make things worse

Children keep an eye on the rewards you give others and sometimes call it unfair. “I worked harder than him, and you give him more than me”. And there you stand, explaining and justifying. Rewards encourage competition between children. Have you noticed that they are often linked to results and sometimes prevent us to observe the efforts? However, some children never get strong results, but have made great efforts. It is easy for them to be discouraged if their efforts are never seen or recognized.

Sometimes, the rewards interfere with pride. Did you ever wish to do something out of generosity and found someone who wanted to pay you? Were you uncomfortable? The students who work to succeed because he is proud of himself, of his perseverance and investment may be shocked when he is offered a reward, and some may even refuse these honours. The awards sometimes cause the opposite effect of the desired behaviour. Instead of encouraging they discourage. Many schools give "rewards activities" to students. However, some students know from the announcement of the activity that they cannot participate because the requirements are too high for them. It's as if they said, "Why would I make efforts, I cannot do it anyway." And they are the ones who would need to participate in the most.

Daily life

Recently, on a Saturday night, the “check engine” light was lit on my car. That worried me, so I go to the gas station and a young man around 16-17 years old answered. I told him about my concerns, and he looked under the hood to check what might be defective. He came and went for about ten minutes and I reached out for my purse, ready to give him a "reward" for this amazing service. I remembered what I preach, put the wallet back and decided that I was going to take the time, when he was finished, to tell him how I appreciated what he did. He reassured me by saying that I could go without a problem. I said, "Thank you for the time you have given me and the work that you have done. I saw you perform various checks and take time to be able to inform and reassure me. Your parents must be proud to have a son like you. You can be proud of the young man generous and conscientious you are. Thank you for helping me." You should have seen the smile on his face. Would twenty dollars have that effect? I don’t think so.

The finest motivation is that which comes from within, intrinsic motivation. When we feel pleasure in a task, that is the best motivation. Isn’t pride the best reward? Help our children to live proudly and work with them, so they feel like good people. Let’s expect them to be such, without wanting a reward in return.

Brigitte Racine
Nurse and Psychotherapist

Brigitte Racine is a nurse, Psychotherapist, a graduate of Laval University, Centre de relation d'aide de Montréal and the William Glasser Institute in California. She offers conferences, training courses,  and individual consultations. For a list of  her upcoming conferences or to view excerpts of her DVD "La discipline un jeux d’enfant", visit her website. Her DVD is available at the Sainte-Justine Hospital library, at her conferences and on her website., 514.392.4755. Call Send SMS Add to Skype You'll need Skype CreditFree via Skype

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