Sunday, July 25, 2010


Rarely there comes a book that is timely and makes me undergo a major mind shift in the way I look at things. I am very grateful to my friend Cat (we talk about our books, blogs and kids during our morning coffee breaks) for mentioning Drive to me. See, I was very busy lately thinking up a proper reward system to use at home. I did see many of them in the blog world, and the idea of motivating my child to do something that she doesn’t like to do was sort of appealing. Well, after just looking through Drive I was thinking, Phew, good thing I didn’t mess things up any more than I already did!

See, Daniel H. Pink makes a point that we are all born as I-people. We have intrinsic drive to learn, to experiment, to find our own purpose in life. Then somewhere along the way the system of carrots-and-sticks kicks in and messes up our I-drive. Rewards can take our intrinsic motivation away and turn play into work, stress us out and cool our fire instead of igniting it. We become X-people – compliant, insanely competitive or disengaged. By the way, majority of the book is actually about organizational approaches and motivating adults, but there is a chapter about how to help the kids to stay on I-path. I will not get into details of this chapter, but my husband and I already spent two evenings debating implications there. I might save our debates for another post.

I certainly see the truth of the statements in the book when I look at our own family. Small rewards worked well for potty training, but then it took us a year to wean Anna off getting an M&M every time she went potty. Some of my attempts to say if you do X, you can get Y backfired badly by daughter absolutely refusing to do X and saying that she doesn’t care about Y. Really, the best way to motivate my child and to teach her was always through games, and I got a lot more careful lately with not offering any prizes in the games. I noticed that she is rather competitive by nature and loves prizes. I would like her to appreciate the joy of participation more than the end result. We already have some “unlearning” to do here, but I feel that we didn’t get addicted to rewards yet, and Anna’s desire to learn on her own is going strong. I want to do my best to raise her an I-person even though I know from experience that they can be more challenging to deal with. After all, I am already married to one :)

What do you do at home to motivate your children to do what they dislike?


S said...

This question is always on my mind. My son is very much in the camp of refusing X because he doesn't care about Y (be it reward or punishment.) It's been a struggle to get out of the habit of using incentives, but I think it will be worth it.

Right now, I focus on the positives of whatever it is that needs to be done. Chores keep the house looking nice, keep germs at bay, make it easier to find missing items, etc. Brushing teeth leaves a clean feeling, prevent cavities. The list goes on. Then I model it for them. I talk about how I might prefer doing something else, but I should get X done first. I celebrate my own accomplishments, and talk about how it feels good to be able to do something else now that the work is done.

I can see this works very well with my girls, but it's going to take a while with my son.

Debbie said...

Great topic Natalie. I experienced the pit fall of rewarding good behavior when the schools introduced this concept to my son. My son was going to make sure that no matter what he would get the reward, even if he didn't earn it. I didn't believe in rewarding good behavior, but instead promoting good behavior. The schools however told him he didn't have to behave unless he got something for it, well not in those words but in their actions.

I am guilty with Selena of using rewards but not continuously. I know we used chocolate chips in the very beginning of potty training, but when I discovered that it wasn't the reward that was encouraging her to go use the potty, but more of the "I just want to go use it" we stopped the reward.

I am in no way perfect in this area, but I have always tried to get Selena engaged into the behaviors or activities I want to see, through as you said games, or distraction. I see her do more and respond better if it looks like something she is really missing out on by not doing, rather then the "If you do this there will be a cookie in the end." Why set them up to think the world is going to reward them around every corner just because they do something that makes them feel good. That isn't reality of life, they have to learn to self reward, in just knowing that they are happy with themselves, for their acheivements. Once they figure that out, then is when they discover their own self pride. Of course I still feel it is a good idea to pat them on the back, and let them know that we are proud of their efforts as well.

Fairion said...

I think I am going to have to go read Drive Motivating Froggy is definitely something we struggle with here. We try hard not to do rewards on the if you do x you can have y level. We focus more on natural consequences and I point out the consequences (both positive and negative) as she is making her choices.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

We do use rewards, but it's usually to lure the children into something I think they might enjoy, but for one reason or another, they won't try. Once they've been introduced to whatever it is though, they are on their own to leave it, or pursue it. My two oldest girls just read Little Women, and Heidi, to get a toy they wanted. After the first chapters, they loved the stories, but before the reward was offered, the books looked thick, and dusty to them, and they didn't want to try. We often use games, and child driven interest, too. But, sometimes I want them to stretch a little, and try something new - If you eat three lima beans you can have the last strawberry.

And, I'm not sure I think the competitive drive is a bad thing. It's more how you deal with that drive, and how you deal with losing, that matters. But, I'll have to give that more thought :)

Aging Mommy said...

Interesting post. I think before becoming parents most people, like me think they will never resort to cajoling and bribery to get things done and will rely on developing a healthy sense of respect and cooperation. Then the child comes along and we all find that sometimes bribery works very well :-)

My first major encounter with bribery was when we did potty training and I discovered my daughter was simply afraid to try, that it felt different. So there was a lot of hand holding and talking but the offer of cadbury mini-eggs for success also worked wonders. So sometimes you do what you have to do and I don't know that I see the harm in children learning that if you overcome your fears you will be rewarded. Sometimes I resort to bribery just to save a meltdown, if we need to go out and are running late and my daughter is refusing as she wants to carry on playing then I will tell her that if she gets ready and puts her shoes on she can do X or Y when we get back.

But I really want to read this book now I have read your post, as the bribery needs to be limited in use and I'd like to know how to best motivate so thank you for such an informative post.

Joyful Learner said...

In a school setting, you can't avoid it. They have to do the work even if they don't want to. I set up a reward system that worked well and then I would slowly wwean them off once it became a habit. By then, they forgot about the rewards.

With our daughter, we don't use a reward system as she is intrinsically motivated with most things. And if she doesn't want to do something, we explain it to her why it's important (brushing teeth) which usually works. With other things (classes she doesn't like), we let it go.

I have used stickers as rewards for potty training but she and I got all stressed out from it. It just didn't feel right. I backed off and when she was ready, she said she wanted to go potty and she did! No rewards needed as the accomplishment was its own reward!

Joyful Learner said...

There was one year when I taught that made me question my values system. I preferred to be intrinsically motivated and the rewards usually took about from what I loved to do. One year I read the book The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush to the class. That year the children thought the little girl was a hero for sacrificing her doll for the people. The following year, I read it to a new group of children and they were like, "Why?" I asked if they ever did anything for anybody without expecting anything back and they all looked back at me stoned face. We all had a good laugh. One student raised his hand and said ge helped his mom with the dishes...but she paid him money. It made me wonder if these kids would grow up to be entrepreneurs one day. Afterall, people are motivated by different things. If they grew up to be successful entrepreneurs it's one thing but if they grow up to be entitled people who feel they deserve a reward for everything they do, that can be a BIG problem!

Joyful Learner said...

Sorry for typos.

Christy said...

Okay, I have to read this book. Collin is always telling me that he doesn't care about Y when I offer it if he does X. Then what do you do? Thanks for this post.

Autumn said...

That book sounds like an interesting read. For Tommy, it depends on what it is he doesn't want to do. If he doesn't want to do something that he is fully expected to do (like clean up his toys), then I do not offer a reward, I offer discipline. :P If it's something like helping me with housework or learning to get dressed, I just wait until the magic moment when he is interested in helping/learning on his own, and jump all over it enthusiastically, praising him for doing or trying.

We do use rewards for his habits chart (a series of 5 things he's supposed to do ever morning/evening) because it was *a lot* to learn at one time. But after just one round of reward, he's already forgotten about the reward and just does the chart for the "x" he gets in the box. We also used rewards for potty for both boys, but they've both already forgotten about it.

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Debbie said...

I wanted to add a very valuable lesson my Dad taught me, probably the best lesson he ever taught me. He claimed nothing is ever below anybody to do, not any type of job, learning, nothing! He always focused on teaching me how to make any task I do fun, how to make it into a game, or sing a song while I worked, whatever worked to make the task fun which I then discovered made it seem to go faster as well.

I know I worked very hard to instill this into my children, and do with Selena as well. It was very difficult though when so much of society thinks we must be rewarded for everything we do. I do not think or feel awards are totally bad, but shouldn't we work on how to reward ourselves instead of expecting others to reward us. I know that was the greatest struggle I had with my kids, when they knew their freinds received rewards, and the schools handed out rewards for everything.

Infant Bibliophile said...

I enjoyed this post, and it has me thinking. I haven't really needed to "discipline" or reward my son yet, but I see a lot of use of reward jars/charts or time-outs around me. Neither really suits my parenting style or my son's personality very well, but I also recognize that we'll need some sort of motivational tools at some point. My son does REALLY well with praise - even praise in advance of actually doing something. When I want him to go to sleep, for instance, I sometimes will say "thank you so much for going to sleep nicely tonight. I know you don't feel tired, but you are doing a great job laying quietly and closing your eyes..." etc. before he even really does it, and he follows suit! It doesn't always work, though. Hence our complete lack of potty training progress thus far. I've rewarded him for a few things, like we picked out a new toy when he finally managed to X or Y (like a balloon for weaning!), but truly the reward was an afterthought. Rewards for potty training haven't phased him. He likes to sit on his potty and do "pretend pees" and then get a "pretend lollipop." That satisfies him!

Ticia said...

Very interesting. I think we do a little bit of both. Most things I don't like to do rewards for, but it does feel like we do a lot of arguing on eating. Mainly at dinner, and we haven't found a good system for that one yet.

It's been interesting to read all of the responses and encouraging to see other people struggle with the same thing.

MaryAnne said...

This book sounds fascinating - and it seems that short titles are all the rage these days ("Blink" and "Nurture Shock" come to mind).

Emma has a reward chart for not waking us up at night, but other than that I try to motivate her by doing things with her, and giving specific praise for things she does well. Motivating anyone to do something they don't like is always hard, though - I certainly find it difficult to motivate myself to do certain things!

Pathfinder Mom said...

Interesting post and comments. We definitely have issues with listening here, but as far as action, TB is pretty good at being responsible. He clears his own plate, dresses himself, puts his dirty clothes in the hamper, etc. We haven't done allowance yet, but we do sometimes give him a small monetary reward if he goes over and above. Generally speaking, we don't have to offer a reward to motivate him.

I did recently purchase the "Accountable Kids" system, but I haven't implemented it yet. I wanted a way to make sure that he could be responsible for day to day tasks without having to be reminded. I liked that the rewards were flexible -things like a special date with Mom or Dad for good work.

We haven't been big into rewards, I guess that's a good thing!