“If you finish your work, you can go outside to play.”
“If you get an ‘A’ on your online test, I’ll take you to get ice cream.”
As homeschoolers, we’ve probably all used some type of external reward as motivation for our kids during their studies. We even do it as parents. Heck, I think at one low point during potty training I even promised a pony. Or a unicorn. Whatever. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding kids for things (not a pony for peeing but, you know, other stuff). However, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the long-term effects of rewarding our kids for doing stuff they should be doing anyway as part of life.
It all started during a
discussion negotiation about chores and allowance. My daughter found a piece of art at a Seuss gallery that really interested her. The cost? Over $1,000. (Gulp.) Not deterred, she decided she was going to start saving her money and came to me one day with a chore chart she had created to supplement her savings.
In the past, we haven’t regularly paid for chores. They are, in my mind, part of just living here and being part of the family. However, I can see some value in paying for things that are above and beyond a kid’s normal responsibilities (like, making your bed as a normal responsibility versus cleaning out the closet as an above and beyond). But, right now she helps with those “above and beyond” chores without expecting anything, so … conundrum.
On the flip side, we know a homeschool mom who rewards her kid for everything. I mean, EVERY. THING. — every book read, every work completion, every advancement to the next level has a reward attached. In fact, in some of our shared classes outside the home, she has even asked the teachers to provide ribbons and other “rewards” that most of us parents see as … unnecessary. It makes me wonder how a child will cope later in a life that is, um, less full of motivational awards for completing every mundane project?
So, I started thinking: what is the benefit (or disadvantage) of regularly offering motivational rewards to our kids?
Do an online search on rewards for kids or intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and you will find studies about rewarding behavior on both sides: Grrrrr! Rewarding kids creates entitled, bratty adults! or Give those kids a sticker! They’ll be better for it! But, just like everything, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Some studies have shown that rewards work better for younger ages (think: potty training rewards), but tend to have less of an effect on behavior and motivation as a child gets older. According to Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, rewards “sometimes” work; while parenting expert and author of Honey, I Wrecked The Kids Alyson Schafer, says that rewards “rarely” work.
Dr. Webster-Stratton believes, “when used correctly, rewards can help kids succeed, make them proud of their accomplishments, and motivate them to keep working on challenges.” She goes on to say that parents or teachers should use inexpensive and fun rewards (think: stickers or extra play time), while pairing it with praise.
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Others believe that extrinsic motivators, or rewards like stickers, bicycles, etc., for doing something can be detrimental. Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, says that external motivator rewards can be helpful for simple tasks, but the long term effects on “cognitive, creative, social or problem-solving tasks can be ineffective or even harmful.”
Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, also discusses the negative effects of extrinsic motivators. When asked, “Do rewards motivate people?” Kohn replies, “Yes. They motivate people to get rewards.” Award-winning educator Jody Stallings writes, “One problem is that the rewards for good behavior can’t keep pace with children’s changing desires.”
So, how can you help motivate your child?
Most experts agree that helping a child develop intrinsic motivation, defined as “completing a skill or activity based on personal interest and enjoyment not for external rewards,” is a better choice for the long-term motivation of kids. Your Therapy Source says that some ways you can help kids develop intrinsic motivation is by allowing self-direction, asking kids how they would like to reach a goal, allowing others to teach them a skill, and teaching kids to track their own improvements instead of comparing against other kids.
How do you feel about rewards? Do you use them during homeschool?