Rewards Promote Good Behaviour – What a Myth!

It’s time to reveal this for the myth that it is.

Rewarding your kids for good behaviour is HORRIBLE advice.

The question is WHY?

Everyone likes to be rewarded. We live in a society that is based on rewards, in schools and at work.

So what’s the problem?

The undeniable truth about rewards

As my kids approached toddlerhood I ramped up the rewards for good behaviour to differentiate the behaviours that were worth repeating and the ones that weren’t. We used star charts for everything from tooth brushing to potty training. I also filled the day with little rewards, stickers, ticks on their hands, and I was never short of “Good Boy,” to entice a repeat performance of desirable behaviour.

Can you imagine my shock and horror then, when I stumbled across research that seems to prove that all of these techniques were actually having the opposite result and creating long-term negative effects?

Rewards and Misused Praise Manipulate Kids

Let’s consider the example where we offer praise (“Good Job”) or a reward to our kids for cleaning their room. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that rewards here have less to do with helping our kids develop their emotional needs or sense of self discipline and more to do with what is convenient or desirable to us?

RhetaDeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as “sugar-coated control.” We use rewards to get kids to comply with our wishes. As Alfie Kohn suggests in his book Punished By Rewards, this makes rewards and punishment two sides of the same coin, as they are both control techniques.

Rewards Can Create Insecurity

Not all praise is used to manipulate kids. I know there are times when I genuinely think that my boys have done well and it feels right to let them know that.Even at those times however, I need to be careful with how I phase my compliments. The fact is research shows that we run the risk of creating kids that rely on our evaluation and our decisions about what is right or wrong. In doing so, we limit the opportunities for kids to practice using their inner judgment to begin valuing their own activities and strengthening their sense of self-worth.

In his article, “Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!,” Alfie Kohn highlights research by Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida. Ms. Budd Rowe “discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice (“Um, seven?”). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students.”

In short, rewards and misused “Good job” comments don’t reassure our kids, but ultimately make them feel less secure.

Rewards Create Loss of Interest

Rewards are great at motivating kids to get rewards, but are counterproductive at helping kids develop a keen interest in any activity.

Over seventy studies have shown that people are less likely to continue working at an activity once the reward is no longer available, compared with people who were never promised rewards in the first place. The more we reward our kids with stars, toys, and extra privileges for example, the less appeal those rewarded activities will have to them. It is one of the most thoroughly researched findings in social psychology, yet it is virtually unknown to parents.

Rewards Kill Creativity

Simply put, rewards kill creativity. Over twenty studies have shown that kids do inferior work when they are expecting to get a reward for doing it, as compared with doing the same task without any expectation of a reward.

This effect is the same for everyone really, not just for kids. The research shows the same results for young kids, older children, and adults; for males and females; for rewards of all kinds. The more creativity required for the tasks,the worse people tend to do when they have been led to perform that task for a reward.

Here’s the main reason behind it – Rewards undermine risk-taking.

Like everyone else, when kids have been led to think of the toy or the sticker that they’re going to get, they do as little as they have to.

Kids use the most basic means at their disposal to get through the task so they can get the reward. Kids don’t think outside the box. They don’t think of multiple possibilities. They don’t tap into their instincts and follow through on hunches that might not pay off. They don’t take chances that might pay off but are not guaranteed. They just aim for task completion as fast as possible to get the reward.

Studies show that people who are rewarded tend to pick the easiest possible task. When the rewards are removed, we tend to prefer more challenging things to do.

The conclusion of all the research on this topic is that good values have to be grown from the inside out. It comes from well-developed self-discipline. Dangling rewards in front of our kids are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.

Our kids are more likely to become enthusiastic, confident, and morally responsible individuals as a result of being provided with a safe, caring family environment in which to discover and create—an environment that offers a significant degree of choice about what, how and why they learn. Alfie Khon points out that “Rewards—like punishments—are  unnecessary when these things are present.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on these findings so don’t forget to submit your comments below. Remember to Like and share with friend so we can get everyone in on the debate.

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Rewards Promote Good Behaviour – What a Myth!

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