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Rewards and Child Development


Did you ever 'bribe' your child when he couldn't finish his meal with a promise of a caddy to get him to finish his meal? Don't you agree a child should be taught to understand finishing his meal is to help them grow up healthily? Therefore, it is their 'duty' to do their job and should not be rewarded. Or, did you reward your child when he achieves better results on his report card? Don't you think that's their 'duty' too? While you may choose to reward your child for high marks, have you ever used it to reward progress, particularly for those children who have difficulty achieving "A"s and "B"s ? We all agree we need to reward our children. However, the extent and the forms of reward are a tricky question.

Reward is a quick-fix solution. It offers instant and safe gratification and is sure to please and satisfy. The returns of reward are certainly quick but are they effective in the child's psychological development? Buying things for children does not teach them values. Even materially rewarding positive behavior is a limited motivating force.

Motivating a child with rewards (in the forms of present, money ...etc) can also present several risks. In the long term, children may develop the idea that reward is earned primarily on merit and not understand that hard work and self-discipline are needed to earn it. In other words, children will shift their motivation from the satisfaction for a job well done. There is a risk of kids thinking, "If I do not get something for this, why do it?" Thus a child would do a chore only to collect the prize. Eventually there may come a time where he or she will not bother to try without it.

Over time, this reward system may bring a desire for more rewards from the child. Some children will become too demanding of themselves while others may become dishonest in trying to achieve the desired goal of the parents. Likewise, higher expectations from some parents who may offer money for better report card results could lead to bribe, manipulate and influence their children to reach the goal. Some parents may have expectations that are too high for their child and this may lead the child to stop trying to achieve better marks, or worse, quit school.

There are alternative rewards
All children should be rewarded for the good work they do at school and at home, but the reward does not need to be in the form of money or materialistic way. It is better to praise children for their achievements rather than reward them tangibly; there is no price ticket on a parent's value of a child. Research suggests that intrinsic rewards, praise leading to self-worth, are longer lasting and transferable, whereas extrinsic rewards are one-offs, non-transferable.

There are many other intrinsic rewards that will have a positive impact on children. For example, the gift of time is probably the most precious. Being active, available, and ready to interact with your children "like going to a movie, a park, or making a special meal" is probably the greatest and most sensible reward. Also, just sitting down regularly to talk about their school life is a welcome reward for many children.

Ideally, recognition or rewards should happen at regular and short intervals. For example, waiting a whole term for report card time to reward children represents a long time for them. The younger they are, the truer this statement is. Therefore, any words, gestures, or expressions of encouragement during a school term to support your children's success and progress at school will help to sustain their efforts and help them to stay motivated in school.

Below are some techniques that parents can use to make rewarding their children a positive influence on their child's development.

1. Reward With Praise
Children, like adults, need constant praise as a form of encouragement. Intrinsic rewards such as a few simple words of praise are a reward in itself. When your child shows that he has put in effort, praise him, for example, "Good job, I am proud of you." These positive praise and encouragement are some of the most effective consequences a parent can use. The best part is: they don't cost a cent!

2. Offer More Tangible Rewards Occasionally
While intrinsic rewards are encouraged; occasional tangible rewards are necessary to give special treats when your child has shown that he has been cooperative and has gone beyond the usual call of duty. Rewards may also be appropriate when your child shows that he is trying to make a major developmental leap forward. Make him feel that he has achieved positive results and in doing so, it will encourage him further.

3. Surprise With A Reward
When parents unexpectedly bestow surprise rewards for particularly fine achievements or for being extra cooperative, it can be a very effective means in reinforcing positive behavior. If your child has done well, give him a well-deserved "surprise" reward.

4. Avoid Bribes
Quite often rewards turn into bribes since, as parents we want to give our children what we think will make them happy and sometimes buying them something seems to be the easiest way to do that.

Bribery offered in order to persuade a child to obey is not advisable as this would encourage the child to say "no" the next time, unless you offer a treat again in return for compliance. If, however, you find that you need to reward your child, offer the reward before he has refused to comply.

5. Keep Threats To A Minimum
Although the urge to threaten a stubborn child is part of parental discipline, parents need to be very conscious of how and when they do so. Threatening tends to suppress a child's innate desire to achieve and behave responsibly. A child when told to "come now or I will spank you" may obey you but only to avoid the promised punishment.

6. Encourage Good Behavior As It's Own Reward
It is essential as parents to help our children see the benefits inherent in doing the right thing. By reinforcing your child's good behavior, you will help him understand the rewards that good behavior brings.

By telling your child that, "I think James enjoys playing with you and his mum appreciates your good manners, that is probably why she wants you to play with James again today," you help your child to think beyond his own actions. After all, children are little people in the making and what is inculcated in the early years helps define the person that he will turn out to be tomorrow.



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