Should You Give Your Child Rewards?

09/05/2017 08:43 pm ET

Should You Give Your Child Rewards?

Parents are perplexed about this question of rewards and often disagree, but a policy needs to be made early on and agreed upon if there are two parents because it sets the tone of the home and an approach to parenting and life itself. Large and small rewards are given from stars to technology for large and small deeds such as being polite, doing chores, and grades. How do you know what direction to take?

Giving frequent rewards is a parenting approach based on behavior modification. If you do the right thing, you get a prize and then are motivated to do so again. Although there are values implicit in the deeds, they are not emphasized.

A different parenting approach is based on values. If you do something right, pride in your action is the reward, not something material. Life becomes about morality, caring for each other, and building self-esteem based on valuing your persistence at a task or accomplishment.

While the behavior mod approach seems more straight forward and easier to implement at the time, does it send the message and teach the lesson that you want over time? Do you want kids to do chores, for example, because your house is a small community in which everyone contributes because they care about each other or do you want them to do their clean up because they win something like a dollar a chore?

Do you want them to learn to appreciate the majority of the chores that you do all the time as adults running a household and thus want to help you by doing their small share set by your example, or do you feel they owe it to you, so you pay them?

These are difficult questions that are implicit in the approach you choose.

Of course, the natural question is what if they don’t do the chore? The difficult parenting task then remains: to discuss why this occurred and solve the problem. This takes time and energy on the parents’ part. It means taking the time to periodically discuss the premise behind the belief in chore sharing.

It means assigning chores that are realistic and developmentally possible for the child or teen to carry out and feel accomplished. It means that if the willing child becomes an unwilling teen, you take the time to understand what else is on the teen’s mind that is preventing him from household chores.

This means flexibility and setting priorities, valuing hard work, and ultimately caring about each other. Lets look at each.

Flexibility and Setting Priorities

If your parenting is based on instilling values and integrity, you need to be prepared to recognize that values may conflict at times. Your teen may be honest and tell you he doesn’t want to take his turn to clear the table and fill the dishwasher because he has a major exam the next day. A flexible parent can offer to do his chore because she understands and shares the teen’s desire to achieve. In that case, the value of learning for school and achieving is prioritized over the value of sharing in a household activity.

Valuing Hard Work

Different kids have different abilities just as adults do. If parents work hard at what they do inside and/or outside the home and demonstrate as well as discuss the pleasure accomplishments give them, kids follow suit. They want to be effective and productive because you’ve set the model and they want to be like you.

First kids want your approval but then as they grow older, they discover how good achievements feel. They learn to tolerate frustration, persist at challenges, and overcome obstacles. They discover sometimes by trial and error that hard work leads to feeling affirmed by others but most importantly by oneself. They value the work they’ve done and they value themselves. What more could a parent dream of?

Caring About Others

Implicit in group life whether at home or school, is not only looking out for oneself, but noticing others’ needs as well. This may mean delaying finishing your homework, to help a buddy you are studying with to learn how to do a math skill he is deficient in. Then you both finish your work, but the helper takes pride in his teaching ability and care for his companion and the companion feels cared for.

Learning about feelings at a young age is also part of learning to care about others. If parents teach feeling words to preschoolers, they will share their emotions early on and continue to do so as they grow. Then they will tell you when they are “frustrated” and you can be helpful and sympathetic and then they learn to do the same for you. It’s not a child’s job to hear your problems, but it’s wonderful when a teen observes his parent is irritable because of stress the adult is experiencing and asks what he can do to help out. This occurs because as he grew up he watched his parents help each other out as well as care for him.

So What About Rewards?

It’s not that a parent never rewards a child. When they graduate from a program you may give them a party or a special gift. They win awards for athletics and science projects. But these rewards are not the priority. The accomplishment is. Positive growing self-esteem and a sense of confidence is the reward that serves to give a child, teen and ultimately an adult the strength to move forward in life. They may have modest or far reaching goals but they look to the future in a positive way.

They know you accept and believe in them and they have faith in themselves. That’s what I call remarkable rewards! Is this ideal? Yes. But worth striving toward.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Visit her website for more guidance and insight:

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