Humans are naturally motivated by rewards. Like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey, we are more likely to do something if there is something enticing at the finish line.
There is so much evidence of it in our society. If we do a good job at work we might get an end of year bonus. Supermarkets reward us for shopping with them and even your local coffee shop will give you a freebie if you buy x amount of coffees (don’t forget to get your loyalty card stamped!). And let’s not forget all those “likes” on social media!
So it is not surprising this is a technique we use to motivate and encourage our kids.
We do it at home: Pocket money for doing chores, dessert if you eat all your vegetables, icecream after the game if you scored a goal.
We do it at school: reward charts, stickers, prize boxes and student of the week. Even a good grade could be considered a reward.
Medical professionals recommend star charts for processes such as potty training while psychologists and parenting experts recommend rewards as a part of positive parenting.
But there is a theory that all this rewarding is actually doing our kids more harm than good.
Some studies show that by rewarding kids with extrinsic motivation, their intrinsic motivation is undermined. Some experts say rewards are a short-term material gain which detract from intrinsic rewards such as learning new things or a sense of achievement at overcoming an challenge.
Put simply, we are teaching our kids that nothing is worth doing if we don’t get a prize at the end.
There is also the belief that by using bribes to get kids to do something they resist, we may be overlooking or shutting down the reason for their behaviour, making our child feel ignored.
For example, if a child keeps getting out of bed and we offer them a prize if they stay there, we are not addressing the underlying reason the child does not want to stay in bed. They could possibly be hungry, scared etc.
Even praise is considered as a reward, and a possible form of manipulation. A child may feel pressure to meet our expectations and feel inadequate if praise doesn’t come.
Essentially, this theory sees rewards as the opposite to punishment and part of a control dynamic.
As a parent of three very different children, I’m not sure an all or nothing approach to rewards is the answer. I think that in some cases rewards are appropriate, useful tools to encourage and motivate.
However, they have their downsides and I have seen negative effects on my own children in relation to tools such as reward charts at school. And the fact is, some kids don’t respond to some forms of reward.
Knowing your child, connecting with them and understanding what motivates them is the key.
As with anything, when it comes to parenting, knowledge it a powerful thing. If we apply strategies and tools mindfully while doing the best we can with what we have, I think we are doing pretty well.