Thursday, February 27, 2014

Do rewards work to build desired character traits? 4 ways to recognize our children's efforts
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Building Character in Our Children

I 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?

Punished By Rewards
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

Ackowledging Effort
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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

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Daniela Escobar said...

I really like the value coins idea! So smart!
Thank you

Erica MomandKiddo said...

I am totally with Alfie Kohn on this one. I do give "prizes" for things like having his blood drawn or getting his cavity filled, but I try to teach that being a person of character is its own reward.

Ticia said...

We do some prizes, but not many. We pay for some chores but not all.

The main area we use prizes is our Sunday School class, and it's in the 5 M&M prizes.

Jess said...

Great post! We're still learning the best way. We give J chores to do, but he's not rewarded for doing them. We're a team, and we expect everyone to pitch in as they can. However, he does need motivation at times (for example: trying new things, getting ready/not prolonging bedtime, etc). We use time as the motivating factor. If he gets ready on time, he can read more books.

P.S. Love the new domain!

Yuliya Fruman said...

What lovely ideas! My son is only 18 months old, but I suppose we reward him in a way when he listens. We always tell him that he did a good job listening and always, always acknowledge his effort. If he listens the whole day, we will reward him with our 'forbidden books'. These are books that he loves so much, he decided to pull them apart and try to destroy them so they are no longer part of his play time bins. When we do bring them out, the kiddo gets ridiculously excited and knows it's special.

As he gets older, we will be doing things differently with more appropriate rewards, and an allowance every week.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

This is a great post! My kids have an allowance of sorts that is tied somewhat to performance - mainly their ability to get themselves to school on time and in bed on time, although they have been fined on rare occasions. They are saving up at the moment, and sometimes they complete extra chores that they are compensated for. They pitch the job and we negotiate.

Cassie said...

My oldest is 4 and we've been using the Melissa and Doug Responsibility chart. We started off offering a reward if he earned a certain number of medallions each week. However, he's lost interest in the reward and is really just more interested in seeing how many of his responsibilities he completed each day (maybe 1-week is too long for a newly turned 4-year old). We keep it right by his bed and complete it just before reading books.


Moka said...

What happens when your child fills the jar with the value coins?

Moka said...

What happens when your child fills the cylinder with value coins? I love the idea but just wondering what's next?!

Emma @ P is for Preschooler said...

I love the value coins idea too! I don't want my daughter to have to do something just for a reward. She's very competitive and gives up easily, so we've been focusing on effort and trying hard. I love the idea of giving one of these coins when I catch her trying her hardest!

shelah moss said...

I use positive reinforcement at home and at work which involves a lot of clapping and cheering and that works well with most kids but some kids really need that concrete reward. If it works I will do it. :)