Written by: Shani Fowler
Gold stars, chocolate bars or a day at a play area can often be given as a reward for a child’s good behaviour. We feel better making a fuss of the good behaviour, sometimes, at the expense of disciplining the bad. We hope they will cotton on, liking the treats and they’ll behave. All will be good in the world. Praise and reward for good behaviour has been customary for a long time, stemming originally, from methods of reward training for animals.
Psychologists believe, it would be beneficial to develop behaviour in humans the same way. The actual relationship with the animal was not the focus, merely the object, which was getting them to do something. Now, some professionals cast doubt on the over reliance of rewarding good behaviour. They believe reward, praise and enforcement have their limits.
When the jelly tots run dry
When the sweeties stop, the behaviour we try to enforce can peter out. This can leave a child who has grown up used to high praise and reward, feel deflated and dampen their perseverance. Studies have shown, when a child expects rewards they perform more poorly, it stifles creativity and discourages risk taking. When children expect a reward, they can tend to have a “play safe” attitude to ensure their eye is on the prize.
Reward and praise may harm
It sounds odd to say that, the new thinking says this can be true. Reward and praise can condition children to believing they should impress, rather than developing their self-motivation. Receiving goodies for performing can encourage “people pleasing” behaviour. Children can become more addicted to recognition, rather than be in touch with the things they actually love to do. They also may feel inadequate if they can’t come up with the goods to get the carrot on the end of the stick.
Praising a child’s potential can be damaging
It is thought, praising children for what they could achieve is loading them with expectation. It may make them dislike who they are now, as though they are a work-in-progress – not good enough as yet.
So what are we to do then?
Praise and reward may be “out”, children still need positive feedback and acknowledgement, the new thinking is, we need to appreciate and encourage. We can still delight and indulge our natural instinct to encourage children in all that they do. The differences may seem subtle and take a little getting used to.
We should try to focus on the pleasure they have from their accomplishment. Fuel them with encouragement, saying things like, “you really seemed to enjoy that,” or “you looked really happy doing that.” This is thought better, as giving out praise and rewards can be likened to being a judge or assessor, it can actually be scary to a child and make them feel manipulated and unsupported.
Think about self-evaluation – getting them to think about how happy they are with what they are doing, for example ask “are you happy with that picture you are painting?” Or “How did you come up with the idea to draw what you have drawn?” We need to watch children grow and be able to develop with a sense of autonomy.
Manipulation leads to dishonesty
Children may learn to manipulate. By acting out what they think we want, this can affect their honesty and could make them manipulative and dishonest in their own relationships. Simple terms such, as the use of “I” is better for deeper meaning to a child. Saying, “I like the drawing you have done,” is better than saying, “you’re a really great drawer.” Commenting on their behaviour, as opposed to them directly, for example instead of saying what a good footballer they are, comment on a particular part like, “I really enjoyed how you played as part of a team.”
Positive feedback and encouragement
It takes time, practice and change what we are used to doing; we are deeply engrained in our habits. We can mostly get children to do what we want them to with praise and reward. This sometimes hides our efforts to control and achieve compliance. It is not likely to make them happy.
Children have a passion for learning and a great capacity for honesty and empathy – to keep that, it’s better to give positive feedback and encouragement than tangible rewards. Try to examine, are you giving positive comments to get your child to please you, or are you genuinely glad to see your child achieve something that has pleased them? Praise does have its place. When it is not used to coerce and manipulate, positive feedback is best when it comes from the heart. This helps your child evaluate how they feel and allows development with a level of autonomy and not control.