Should Kids Be Rewarded for Things They’re Supposed to Do?

February 20, 2013  |  

Doing chores around the house, being polite, getting good grades…as parents, we tend to reward our children for just about every good thing that they do in hopes of reinforcing the positive behavior. But are we doing more harm to them than good when we give them gifts for things that they’re supposed to do?

With four kids ranging in age from 4 to 15, I’ve done it all—a treat for using the potty, a video game for a good report card. Once I even paid my oldest son for walking to pick his younger brothers up from school (I don’t dare say how much. Shameful, I know.). But every time I came across something they “earned” strewn about in the cemetery of broken video games and dismembered toys, also known as their bedrooms, I wondered to myself: Is this really working?

The obvious answer, as evidenced by my bank statements and many Toys R Us receipts was a resounding, “NO!” Yes, they were consistently getting straight A’s, but I knew there had to be a better way; something that didn’t put me in the poorhouse every marking period.

So what do you do to teach your child to keep up the good work?

According to child psychologists and family therapists, all that’s needed to reinforce things that are expected of your child – like doing daily chores – is verbal praise, an expression of gratitude, or a high-five that acknowledges the behavior and lets them know how proud you are that they’ve done it.

Why is gift-giving thought to be so bad? The argument is that by giving children over-the-top praise and presents for things that they’re supposed to do in life, we’re teaching them to expect some sort of compensation for that and any other good behavior every time.

It may seem like a harmless, albeit expensive way to reinforce your expectations, but experts agree that it’s more likely to cause children to think of the behavior as something that they can choose or trade. If you’re giving your child a dollar for making their bed, what happens when that amount suddenly isn’t enough, or they have no immediate need for it, so there’s no motivation for them to make the bed?

“An external reward, such as money or some form of extra treat should be given for doing something above and beyond what is expected,” Parenting Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz tells MommyNoire. “For example, if one sibling is unable to perform his or her chores and the other sibling does them in his or her place, then something tangible as payment might be in order.”

As it turns out, “something tangible” doesn’t mean a new video game. The reward should always be measured against the behavior. These days, it’s easy to let your child download a new app or song instead of something else more extravagant.

But, Think Like a Black Belt author Jim Bouchard warns, “Bad habits and behaviors produce rewards, too. That’s why it’s so hard to change [them].” The reward for bad behavior is also attention, and regardless as to whether it’s negative or not, to a child, it’s still what they crave most from a parent or guardian.

The key – as it always seems to be with parenting – is balance, and teaching your child that there’s more personal satisfaction in getting “good attention” than there is bad.

As Bouchard says, “Caring and attention cost nothing, but has value far in excess of any material reward.”

MommyNoire Community Chat
Okay moms (and dads), it’s your turn! What are your thoughts on rewarding children for things that they’re supposed to do?

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