Rewards Systems for Children
A parent’s job is to guide their children healthfully to adulthood. That guidance typically includes the provision of positive and negative feedback to children. Positive feedback can be tied to rewards (i.e., dessert after dinner, an extra half hour awake at bedtime, etc.); negative feedback can be tied to punishments (i.e., time-outs, groundings, going to bed early, etc.). In this blog, we will address the rewards systems that accompany positive feedback.
Why is a rewards system a good idea?
Because children have not yet created a societally reinforced value system, children often need external motivators . . . something to induce them to action. For example, a child may be promised a larger allowance if s/he earns straight A’s in school. Rewards systems are thus valuable tools for parents.
What is the primary risk associated with having a rewards system?
Rewards systems can teach children to act based solely on external rewards rather than for the reward of the act itself. For example, if a child only earns A’s to get a larger allowance, the child is not appropriately valuing education and knowledge.
Why is consistency in applying rewards systems so difficult?
Consistency in anything can be difficult. Promises made can easily be forgotten. Or perhaps the rewards system should be applied on a day when the parent simply does not have the time or energy for non-essentials. Or maybe it is too much of a hassle if one child fusses over not receiving the reward that his/her sibling just received (here assuming that the fussy sibling has not earned the reward). If you do not allow yourself to waiver in the carrying out of any act or plan, the diligence required for you to stay that course, especially over a protracted period of time (such as your children’s childhood years), can be daunting.
What should a parent consider when designing a rewards system?
When designing a rewards system, consider the message the rewards system sends to your children and the sustainability of the rewards system.
Rewards systems should be secondary rewards . . . in that the primary reward should be the internal sense of self-gain from the achievement of the goal (i.e., earning all A’s in school). Reward systems that provide for large rewards can supplant the internal rewards, thus rendering affected children unable to experience internal rewards because they only value the external rewards systems. For example, if a parent promises to buy a child a new car of the child’s choosing if s/he gets straight A’s in the year that s/he turns 16, that child may value the car more than the education and knowledge.
The sustainability of the rewards system is also an essential consideration. Does your budget support your being able to buy the reward every time it is earned? Is your schedule such that you can stay up later to accommodate a later bedtime on each night when the extended bedtime is earned? Is the rewards appropriate for your children’s ages throughout the period of time in which the desired behavior is to be rewarded?
Rewards systems are valuable tools for parents, but they need to be wisely considered and consistently applied for the rewards systems to function properly.
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