Rewards! What’s not to love about enticing or treating your child to something they love in return for their cooperation or participation? How could that be negative? We live in a time where there is huge cultural approval for stickers and charts, so what happens if you choose an alternative approach and why would you want to?
We have come up with 3 questions you might want to reflect on…
1. What is your motivation for offering a reward?
Sometimes it can look like the quickest way to achieve the desired outcome is to offer the lure of a reward. This may well work brilliantly in the short term (rewards can) but in the longer term that attractive sparkly golden sheen will soon fade.
Maybe it looks like your child will more likely engage, and therefore learn, if a reward is on offer – unfortunately the opposite is true. Rewards distract the child from the task at hand and the learning for the child becomes ‘how can I get what I want in the quickest way possible’. Children also experience the pressure and fear of not achieving the reward which can make them avoid tasks completely.
Children who are undistracted by rewards will challenge themselves to just above their current ability, so it’s fascinating to know that innate motivation (in a reward-free environment) leads to the most enriching learning ground.
2. Are we judging the task on our child’s behalf?
Sometimes we might judge the task to be onerous, boring or too difficult and therefore only appealing with a reward at the end…but can we be certain the child sees the task in the same light?
Do we really want to set up an expectation that so-called dull tasks aren’t worth attempting for their own sake? Could we instead cultivate a belief that so-called dull tasks have the potential to be perceived differently? Why assume that washing up is a chore when it could just as easily be fun!
We are frequently reminded how brilliant children are at living in the moment; their ability to truly engage is amazing and they can delight in the mundane in a way few adults can. With this in mind, there’s always scope to give children the opportunity to attempt something without rewards. It is this opportunity that makes space for the unexpected, the experiential learning and the sense of achievement.
3. What message do you give when you offer a reward?
If we feel compelled to offer rewards are we actually saying to the child that we don’t trust in their natural curiosity, determination, creativity or tenacity to engage in the first place?
Whether it’s the smallest tasks, or the more challenging ones, are we saying that self-satisfaction isn’t enough and that an external reward is the true measure of success? By incentivising with rewards we are innocently and inadvertently conditioning the child to look outside of themselves for recognition and approval rather than inside.
If we create an environment where rewards are not always expected (that’s not to say that spontaneous celebration or treats can’t have their place) do we really believe our children, who operate at a genius level of creative problem-solving, won’t find it in them to explore, experiment and engage?
The lure of rewards is real, but sometimes the seduction can be in the giving rather than the receiving. Like all distractions, rewards can take everyone’s eyes, parents and children alike, off the ball when the task at hand is enough in and of itself.
If rewards feel like a helpful and necessary part of your parenting, how do you see the relationship your child has with rewards unfolding in the future as they grow up? While there’s undoubtedly a joy for parents in recognising our children with stickers, treats and other rewards, what greater joy is there than watching your child experience their intrinsic satisfaction and success on their own terms and for it’s own sake.
To learn more about rewards and all the biggest parenting hot topics, enrol on our innovative online Positive Discipline Course.