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Building Character in Our ChildrenI think we all agree that we strive to raise children with strong core values. This foundation is laid at home and cannot be easily obtained anywhere else. Different families might choose to focus on different values. I asked a question on three most important character traits for children on my Facebook page, and got very different answers. My husband and I have been spending a lot of time discussing this – what traits we want to see in our daughter and how to help her grow into a responsible and caring adult. Our core values to focus on are kindness, responsibility, and perseverance.
Do Rewards Help to Build Character?
My husband and I also spent hours discussing Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn and Drive by Daniel H. Pink. Both books make a very convincing case against using rewards to motivate children. Research shows that giving rewards is a slippery slope of replacing intrinsic motivation with dependency on external factors. I could observe it first hand in my early attempts to motivate my young toddler with prizes. I discovered then, to my dismay, that she wouldn’t do a more difficult task unless there was a “payout” associated with it, and it took much longer time to wean her off rewards than to get her addicted to them. I highly recommend both books to new parents considering reward systems for their children. You can also read through my earlier review of Drive by Daniel H. Pink.
5 Ways to Recognize Children’s Efforts
I am well aware that theory and practice don’t always go hand-in-hand. Some kids, including mine, are competitive by nature and are motivated to do more when they experience external recognition. As in other things in parenting, there is a balance that will be different for every family and will require shifting as kids get older. I can share what works for us now when our daughter is a second grader.
- She gets an allowance, but it’s not tied to performance. It’s the same amount every week and we plan to raise it as she gets older.
- Focusing on effort, not on the result while giving feedback. Often our daughter wants us to “grade” whatever she is working on. We make our best effort to redirect her attention to amount of effort she put in and also ask her to self-reflect, grade her own work, and explain her point of view to us.
- Moving from rewards given by others to self-rewarding. We, adults, give ourselves rewards for difficult tasks and we encourage our daughter to reward herself with activities that she enjoys doing. Usually her award of choice is more computer time.
- Value coins. This is something that we borrowed from Smarty’s school where students earn coins for their class for actions that reflect school values known in her school as 4Bs (Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Responsible, Be Caring). We introduced a similar system at home where we add a coin to a glass cylinder when we “catch” her being responsible, kind, or working hard without giving up. In other words, she cannot “earn” these points, she can only get it by living the value. Most of the coins she earned so far were for being responsible.
- Mini-celebrations. We believe in celebrating milestones, but prefer this celebration to come as a surprise to our daughter, not as an expected reward. For example, we celebrated her passing a swim test by going for an ice cream, or we celebrated her reaching 50,000 points in Khan Academy by going to Jamba Juice. She loves these surprises, and she knows that her efforts are acknowledged by us.
Your Turn:How do you handle rewards in your house?
- The Risks of Rewards by Alphie Kohn
- Motivating Learning in Young Children by National Association of School Psychologists
- Intrinsic Motivation from Parenting Gifted Children
- How Can I Motivate My Child Without Spoiling Him? from Examiner