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How To Raise Children: Reward, Praise & Punishment

September 15, 2021 Posted by: Kidzapp Team Parenting

Raising children is not an easy thing to do. It gets even trickier when it comes to the subject on how to tackle discipline and motivating positive behavior in your little ones. This week, Parenting Coach, Pascale, is back to give us some helpful insights on how to navigate this journey.

Let’s take a look at Punishment

Many parents will resort to punishing unfavorable behavior, but the problem with punishment is that it only teaches your child (in an unhealthy way) what not to do. Punishment holds the danger of instilling fear in your children, which inhibits their autonomy, making the punishment’s goal of reducing a specific behavior effective only in the presence of the punisher. 

For example, punishing your child for repeating a bad word will only prevent your child from saying that word in front of you (the parents), out of fear, not due to learning why it's not appreciated and how it can be hurtful.

Another way punishment could cause issues is that if your child is not provided with adequate, nurturing, and assertive attention, your child might resort to doing unfavorable behavior to get attention (even if it’s in the form of a punishment). When a child does that, the parent might increase the level of punishment to counteract the attention-craving act, which will then lead to a vicious cycle of behavior-punishment-behavior.

Punishment does not teach your child why the act was wrong or what the right act is. For that to happen, parents need to reinforce good behavior through modeling, connection, communication and encouragement. With that in mind, should you start rewarding your child?

What is Rewarding?

A reward is the event of your child experiencing a positive experience due to a consequence of their actions. 

So is rewarding your child a good thing?

The reward itself could be giving your child a gift for scoring a good grade on their exam or starting a sticker reward chart for younger kids. The problem with rewards is that it reinforces the result, but not the process, when not done correctly. It will teach your child to do well for the purpose of receiving an acknowledgement or gift. In a way, it works for the parents in the short term, it could come off as the parents bribing their children to make their lives easier. However, if we examine long term results, what are we teaching the child?

When a child is throwing a tantrum at the supermarket to get candy, some parents resort to making a deal: behave yourself and I will buy you the candy you want. This method does not empower the child to behave for the sake of good behavior, but rather creates an understanding that resembles a transaction. 

If I want to receive a reward, I must act well.

From a distance, that could sound like a mission accomplished. The child knows to act well. The underlying issue is that now the child expects to always be rewarded when acting well and doesn't necessarily do it due to an internal understanding and motivation.

If I act well, I must be rewarded

The children might begin to expect a reward every time they act well. If they don’t, they might react negatively, which might force the parent to increase the reward, such as giving the child more candy or resort to punishment. The child develops an unhealthy understanding of action-reward.

Another way rewards could harm your children is by turning their compass to be directed towards extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation. Your child will be motivated to do things to please or satisfy external factors, irrespective of his/her/their own belief. Such a method might lead your children to become people-pleasers and be less confident of their own opinions, ideas, preferences, and beliefs. Once a little child learns to please their parents, they might grow to become teenagers who start pleasing their peers and adults pleasing their co-workers/partners, losing the focus on pleasing themselves and focusing on their internal compass.

How about Praise?

Praising your child is for example saying, “Good job, Good boy, Good girl, Wow!" every time your child does something; builds a tower, paints a picture, tidies up etc.This is always done with the best intention: I want my child to know I'm proud of them and I love them. 

The risk here is that your child is learning that their actions/products are making mom or dad happy. Imagine this scenario in their head, "oh, the yellow colour makes mommy happy, I'll always use the yellow colour".

What is the best way then?

Children not only need to learn that what they are doing is correct, but also need to be encouraged for the way they are doing it. No child is perfect, however, when the parents praise and encourage their children’s efforts, the children learn to do an act because it results in their own satisfaction, as opposed to that of their parents. 

Praising/rewarding your child only when they receive more than 90% on their exam will lead to an inability by your children to accept failure or fear of upsetting their parents, or worse, be punished or ridiculed. By explaining that perfection is not the goal, you can then focus on the effort your child has been putting to achieve a score.

"I see the effort you put in to study for your exam, Steph!” Whether Steph has scored a 6/10 or a 10/10, she will be encouraged to try harder in the future.

Here are some steps to follow to motivate positive behavior in your children:

Acknowledge their behavior

Acknowledging negative behavior is just as important as acknowledging positive behavior. The child needs to know that their actions are being noticed.

Explain if the behavior is favorable or not, and why

We cannot expect our children to understand by themselves. If we do not explain why a behavior is bad, children will not understand your upset response, which could lead to confusion.

Be specific with your explanation. Sentences like “be nice to your sister” are vague for children. Use sentences like “Let's try taking turns, I know it’s hard sometimes. Here’s what we can do while you wait for your turn” Don’t just tell them what to do, teach them and model how to do it.

Recognize their effort! Be curious!

“I see you used a new colouring style. Did you enjoy it?” - "I know this was a little scary, you tried really hard to climb that wall! How did you feel?" Mention the positives and praise them, notice the effort and be curious, ask questions. By noticing their efforts, no matter how small they are, children will be encouraged to try again next time abd be more creative as they will learn that what's important is to explore and find what pleases them.

Encourage exploration

This is a safe space. Your children must be allowed to explore different methods and behaviors to achieve a specific result. Their autonomy must be respected and encouraged. Through a parenting style which pays attention to your child's feelings and needs, creates an emotional bond, but models to the children the rights and wrongs, the child will be given the space to grow and become the person that they are.

Written for Kidzapp by Parenting Coach, Pascale. Find out more about her right here.

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