The Weller Way

Rewards… be or not to be?

Image by Katherine Ab from Pixabay

Has lockdown taken your usually fairly compliant, cute, lovely little one, into an unrecognisable demanding and defiant less than lovely little one? Anger and defiance are signs that the survival brain is running amok, triggering these responses. It may therefore be tempting to rank up a rewards system in your household to increase co-operation and minimise tantrums, however, I would err on the side of caution before you rush into creating reward charts or a reward system unless you are very clear on your specific goal.

We need to consider how children learn life skills and behaviours linked to values . The very essence of what makes us humans, and able to live in community and able to emotionally regulate is a natural and organic part of growing up, which can be role modelled and taught without the need for rewards.

To get a reward for helping someone is not teaching the values of kindness or selflessness. Don’t reward behaviour linked to values but use PRAISE and POSITIVE FEEDBACK instead regularly on a daily basis for efforts, rather than achievements. You can praise for helpfulness, kindness, sharing, trying, working through a challenge, being observant, listening for example.

“the more that people are rewarded for doing something, the more likely they are to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward” (Alfie Kohn: Unconditional Parenting). Why is this?

Rewards fit into the pillar of CONDITIONAL LOVE, which interferes with the sense of loving your “whole” child, warts and all.

Rewards fit into AUTHORITARIAN parenting: which is the idea that people with more power get people with less power to behave by punishing non-compliance and rewarding compliance

Rewards promote a FIXED MINDSET: which doesn’t improve the quality of children’s learning and can be the foundation of unhelpful and negative thinking patterns developing which will hinder your child’s educational experience.

  • If we withhold a reward, children will think their EFFORTS are wasted
  • Are we teaching them the intrinsic value of learning? Learning through mistakes, getting better at something? This is the foundation of developing resilience, to cope with life’s challenges later on.

Rewards effect SELF ESTEEM: “I only feel loved under certain conditions”. Research shows that children who are rewarded for doing something nice are less likely to think of themselves as nice people

We are sowing the seeds for basing a child’s self- worth on meeting a series of expectations (external), which leads to thinking that their value depends on their performance (= Fixed Mindset and an inability to cope with failure). This sets up a life pattern for discounting internal satisfaction in favour of only valuing external feedback, which is from others.

Rewards are connected with MOTIVATION THEORY: A child develops motivation as

Intrinsic: they like doing something for it’s own sake

Extrinsic: they do something as a means to an end: to get a reward or avoid a punishment

Both are true but extrinsic erodes intrinsic

It’s not the amount of motivation that matters , it’s HOW they are motivated (i.e through values and relationship)

Image by Manfred Steger from Pixabay

CONTRIBUTION is a key part of self- esteem, and belonging which are key for good MENTAL HEALTH

Rewards effect a feeling of BELONGING: I only belong when “I get”.

Your children live in a COMMUNITY, your house, they eat the food you provide, wear the clean clothes that are provided, and therefore they can participate in household chores. This builds personal responsibility and independent living skills for the future, but also creates a sense of belonging through sharing in community.

REWARDS: Encourage:

  • MISTRUST: When we bribe a child for good behaviour we are in effect showing him that we do not trust him, which is actually a form of encouragement
  • ANXIETY: over seeking approval
  • MATERIALISM: encourages it
  • ENTITLEMENT: the world owes me
  • RULE BREAKING: why obey rules when there is no reward?

I would only recommend the use of rewards for SHORT TERM GAINS :

To encourage a routine or a specific goal, such as a morning or bedtime routine, sitting at the table to eat, or to encourage personal responsibility for personal hygeine, such as brushing teeth or potty training if it has become problematical. For older children they can be useful for putting effort into a particular subject at school that they are finding difficult.

Small incentives work best, including Sticker chart, marbles in the pot to earn a reward of small monetary value.

An offered reward should be given on a regular and consistent basis, ideally on the same day of a week, so that children can look forward to it, rather than offered ad hoc or randomly.

Satisfaction and self-worth come from a sense of contribution, participation and sense of belonging

Rewards… be or not to be?
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