Caution: Are You a One Trick Parenting Reward Pony?

Who doesn’t like a good carrot now and again? You know the crunchy kind, especially when it’s dangling from a string. What I’m talking about is that coveted promise (“Can you say Cocoa West after school boys and girls?”), the prize (lego anyone?), or that reward (How about an Artisan Eats macaroon?). They come in all shapes and sizes, and are one of the oldest tools in the parenting discipline book. 

The trouble? Rewards don’t ultimately work. Nope. While they can work in the short-term—a candy for going to the potty, a bit of coin for some chores and a toy for good behaviour—you’ll find they quickly loose their allure. Heaps of research proves it, too. Rewards, and praise, stroke a kid’s (or even an employee’s) external motivation (a.k.a. the ‘ego’). Those various ‘carrots on a string’ fail to nurture one’s internal motivation, which is where you’ll find the real sticking power juice when it comes to your child’s personal success.

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That’s why when I recently had three separate parents tell me about their rewards of choice—more screen-time, sweets and mad-money for a tween…well, I knew I needed to set the record straight, right here with you.

Now any good psychology student is familiar with Stanford University Professor, Carol Dweck’s, mindset psychology. She’s discovered, as did predecessors like Alfred Adler (colleague of Freud and Jung), that rewards such as praise in the form of “you’re such a smart boy”, or “you’re such a talented girl” only feeds unhealthy self-esteem, leading to one lowering their personal bar.

While it’s oh-so-tempting, and oh-so-common, to pull out the parenting reward card it can bite you in the parenting butt, particularly if you’re a one trick parenting reward pony. And the flip side of rewards is punishment. But the reward/punishment see-saw only leads to a dizzying array of more melt-downs, frustrations and parenting guilt (‘I’ve gotta be the crummiest parent in the world…pass the vat of ice cream please’). 

Turns out the best gifts we can consistently offer our kids is to focus on their effort, give them the freedom to make mistakes, and to support their true interests. Research world-wide shows that when teachers and parents adopt this type of approach the results are nothing short of remarkable. What you’ll find is that kids spend more time on task, put more effort in and just try more. Bottomline: traditional rewards, including praise, mean slower skill achievement, more mistakes and a poor attitude, in which giving-up is one’s default.

So if you want more peaceful and joyful parenting in your future (cause there’s little more stressful than worrying about your kid), you’ll wanna wean yourself off using rewards and praise.

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