Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shall We Give the Kids a Sticker for Breathing?

Are stars and a pay-off really the best way to train up a child?

It starts with a sticker for peeing in the potty.  (And don’t even get my started on that iPad potty!)  And then a star chart for making the bed.  A coin in the jar for washing the dishes.  A lollipop for completing homework.  It seems we reward our kids for every step of their day.  And by “we” I mean parents generically, not me specifically, because I’m not a very good rewarder.

I recently read a parent suggestion in a popular family magazine about giving her kids a stamp every time they spoke to an adult and after acquiring so many stamps, they got to go to a restaurant as their reward.  Really?  We’re rewarding our kids for talking to people?  I thought this, like using the potty, was something that we taught our children as a regular course of growing up.  How many of us weren't pushed towards an aunt or family friend and told to say "hello"?  What about taking the kid to the librarian's desk and telling the kid,"ask her where you can find books on dinosaurs."  When I mentioned this to my daughter, she screwed up her face and said, “What if the kid doesn’t feel like talking to an adult?”  Which brings me to the related question – are we teaching our kids, by giving them rewards for everything, not to do the thing, but to do whatever’s necessary to get a reward, be it a sticker or a dinner out?  Rather, shouldn’t we teach our kids to do the thing for the internal feel good feeling of doing it?  Or, wow, maybe just for the life practicalness of learning to do a new task.

I just saw another blogpost by a dad-blogger who gave his daughter $200 – wait, let me back up – wrote a contract with his daughter, giving her $200 for disabling her FaceBook account for 6 months.  What the?  And no, I’m not giving you a link because I’m not going to give you any tools to replicate such foolishness.  I wonder if dad ever thought of taking away her phone/computer/iPad?  What happens at the end of 6 months?  Does she get another $200 or does she get her account back?  And, if she’s a smart girl, why doesn’t she ask for more the next time around?  Maybe another $200 for her Twitter account and another $200 for Instagram.  This kid could retire by the end of high school.

What happened to “because I said so” and “because I’m the mother/father”?  Or even Cliff Huxtable’s “I brought you into this world, I’ll take you out” if you need to put a little more tooth into it?  I wish I would give my kids a reward or a pay-off for doing what I told them to do.

Last year, our Superintendent of Schools lead a book talk about motivating students.  Part of the discussion revolved around cultivating a sense of internal motivation – the sense of “oh, I’m so proud of myself for doing that” instead of “what will I get if I do this?”  Because when the reward is gone, the behavior disappears, too.  Or the desire for a bigger reward appears.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t think kids deserve a congratulatory reward every now and then. I prefer them for the big stuff and natural rewards/consequences.  Straight A’s on the report card?  Great, let’s go get some ice cream.  All the chores are done without too much shouting and crying?  Now, we can settle in for a movie and popcorn.  Is this better than the reward every step method?  I guess it’ll be years until we find out if my band of four turns into fully functioning adults, but in the meantime, I’m saving a lot of money on stickers and contracts.

Join the conversation, "like" us on Facebook: Just Piddlin' with Frances


Patrice Marshall said...

Totally agree with your opinion. I think the whole reward mentality just encourages kids to work for the reward. There is no learning about internal motivation. There is no character building. My 7 year old asked this morning, Why don't you and Dad ever give us rewards for being good? I said, because you are supposed to be good. If you always do things for a pay off, you don't learn responsibility or integrity. We don't pay for grades or chores. Our kids get an allowance, but they are not fee for service. They do chores because they are asked to, when they are asked to, because they are a part of our household and contribute to our household as necessary. I have friends who pay for each chore and have been told, "I don't want to make my bed, because I don't need to. I already bought my DS, game, etc.". We have to work really hard to help our kids learn that life is not all about instant gratification. Okay, stepping off the soap box :)

Laura said...

This is a good topic. I think reward systems are way out of hand, although in some ways some rewards are good. In our house we reward for good grades, but this is because we are trying to convey the message - work hard, get good grades and a good education and hopefully that translates finding a good career. If you want to live a comfortable life, you earn it. With that said, rewards for everything are too much. One of my pet peeves is the ticket reward system at our school. Kids get rewarded for good behavior and then can turn in the tickets every two weeks for a cheesy prize. Kids shouldn’t be rewarded for good behavior in school, it should be expected. Bad and disruptive behavior in school should not be tolerated, yet it is. What is worse is that what ends up happening under this system is that the well behaved kids tend to get fewer tickets than the disruptive ones. This is because the teachers use the tickets to try and “buy” good behavior. It is a good example of a reward system gone wrong.

Mommyx4 said...

Patrice - great example of how paying per chore can go wrong - don't need money, don't do their chores. But that brings up another question -do they get their allowance regardless, not tied to chores? I've been debating and needs to come to a decision and really be more consistent with that.

And Laura - as for school rewards - one day I was fussing about my kid's getting tickets and stickers etc and they asked me what did ig et in school for being good, how did the teachers make us be good? Weren't they shocked when told them they just told us to and we were! (well, there were the bad kids, too, but then they went to the office and whatever happened to them.)