Okay, I hear some sisters are breaking out the candy in hopes of getting some little people on the potty along with some practice at making the grade so they'll be ready to perform in the big leagues when the time comes. Well, I've got no complaint with rewarding kids for little things here and there to get the ball moving when it comes to cultivating interest in new skills, but I've found with my kids that the road to rewards is pretty slippery. Here's why I ultimately abandoned rewards as a way to get my kids on board.
Rewards set you up for constant negotiation. No problem if you're raising a future lawyer (cough cough Kris), but not the happiest of things to live with on a day in day out basis. Do you really want argue with your kids about whether or not your price for this grade or that mastered skill is worth their effort?
Rewards shift the focus to the outcome versus what can be gained in the process. What prize can compare to the experience of gaining mastery over something difficult or new? My kids could obsess on what they'll get when they finish, but I'd rather they set their eyes on the prize of solving a problem or learning something new for the sheer joy it brings.
Rewards train kids to gauge progress by an external measure instead of learning what's right for them. I want my kids to be the judge of how they're doing--and I believe with or without the reward to push (or repel) them--they already know. This is an important skill that can only grow when we give them the chance to deeply engage in the task instead of fixate on the outcome.
Rewards steal the happiness you can get from doing something well just because you want to. My kids are truly miserable when I bring my praise to the mix--especially when they are engaging in a skill-building activity that they chose on their own volition. There's nothing more exciting than watching your own skills deepen--rewards divert you from the real prize of learning how to do something you chose completely on your own.
Rewards undermine your intuition which may give your kid essential information about where their interests and talents truly lie. How many jobs have you had because the paycheck was right or the benefits couldn't be beat? How many of those same jobs ended up having absolutely nothing to do with your core interests or talents? Let's give our kids a leg up by letting them experience their true potential without roping them into a rat race that will ultimately leave them feeling less talented or free.
Rewards are ultimately demotivating as inevitably the joy of the prize doesn't quite seem worth the effort. This is a real shame because kids need to learn that the act of learning is a reward in and of itself and rewards completely minimize a task's intrinsic non-material payoff. I think a lot of the time our kids miss out on lots of possiblities simply because they've been confronted with a reward for mastery that hardly seems worth the trouble.
Do you use rewards with your kids? Where do you draw the line?