How Rewarding A Child Can Turn Out Bad?

So let me guess. Do you think rewarding a child makes it easy to do the things they are told to do? Well, I don’t blame you. Most parents just want to get things done without having to say that the second time to their kids. But how often does that work for you? How many times have you failed or made a bigger mess of things after telling your kids, “If you do this, I’ll give you that”? Let’s back up a second. If someone, maybe your parents or your friends, or your partner, says that they will reward you for doing something, how would you feel? 


Here’s an example scenario to make you understand how you will feel:


Imagine that you have been cooking some amazing and delicious foods for your family every night and you are pretty pleased and proud of yourself. Despite working at least 10 hours a day in the office, cleaning your home, taking care of the kids, picking them up from school, making them do homework, you have been making sure your family is getting those healthy home-cooked meals every night. But your partner isn’t recognizing your feelings and instead says, “I need you to make dinner earlier on weeknights so I can get to bed earlier. Listen, I’m going to offer you a reward. For every five nights that you get dinner on the table by 6 p.m., I’ll take you out to a restaurant of your choice. I made a sticker chart so I can track your successes!”


Now tell me how you feel after reading that. Happy? Excited? Encouraged? Maybe appreciated? Loved? Do you feel anything positive? 


No. But why? What’s wrong with what the partner said? He said the same thing as “If you finish your chores in the next 15 minutes, I’ll give you special candies!” Right?


So what is exactly wrong with what the partner said? Well first, he/she didn’t care about your feelings and how you felt. And second, he/she didn’t recognize the amount of time you spent working all day long and making that special healthy meal. Third, he/she didn’t even think to realize how much more effort you will have to put in to get dinner ready earlier. And the list goes on. 


Do you see the problem with what the partner said? Would we as adults ever not get angry or frustrated with such a statement? Of course, we would. Do you know why? Because we want a partner who can work things out together instead of just putting everything on us. And the statement, “If you have ready dinner by 6 p.m, I’ll take you out to a restaurant of your choice. I will also have a chat with me so I can track your progress.” is actually manipulative and can even turn into a threat.


The same thing goes for the reward statement that we often give to our children. Rewarding a child doesn’t address the problem. They are used to manipulate them into doing something rather than work with them to solve the problem. Rewarding a child also has a dark side. A promised reward can also turn into a threat that secretly says: If you don’t do what I say, you will miss out on something special and good.


Do we want to be that kind of influence on our kids? We don’t and we shouldn’t. The above example scenario of what the partner said can be said and meant differently. In a way to let you know that your partner is ready to work with you on the problems they are facing and we are facing together. Something like, “Wow, I really appreciate all these delicious meals. My problem is, I’m frustrated with the late nights. I feel like I’m not getting enough sleep. Is there anything we can do to get the dinner ready a little earlier? What could I do to make that happen? Let’s think of some ideas and solve our problems together.”


Now, How does that sound? Makes you feel appreciated and ready to think of what you can do right? That’s the point of this blog. 


Here’s a real-life example that went wrong by using the “Rewarding a child” technique:


Sarah, mother of three kids narrates:


I had a bunch of tedious errands to run and three young children to drag along. I promised them each a stick of chew gums once they got to the grocery store if they could cooperate at the bank and post office. The kids were excited. 


But my youngest daughter, Mia, could not control herself. She managed to sit quietly through the drive-through bank. But by the time we got to the post office she was out of her car seat and crawling around the van. The two siblings got their gum for not doing anything to cause trouble and Mia didn’t. Mia cried and raged all the way through the grocery shopping. It was a miserable day.


This scenario of rewarding a child to keep the chaos from happening turned into punishment in disguise. And that is the problem with rewarding a child or trying to reward anyone. If Sarah had instead talked about how boring errands are and how difficult it is to stay belted at the car for a long time, then challenged them to come up with ideas to keep them entertained, they would have done something interesting on their own. They could have come up with some silly games to play with themselves, or songs or stories to tell their mom to keep them entertained the whole way. 


So rewards are manipulative, threatening, and may seem like a punishment at the end if the task didn’t go well. Instead, you can offer them something exciting to look at after they are done. Like when you are cleaning all day and you cannot wait to finish. You may give an incentive to yourself like “After this, I am gonna sit on the sofa with a book and a cup of tea to relax.”

Similarly, offer them a good scenario without turning into a threat or making it manipulative. 


You can avoid those toxic punishing or threatening sentences. Replace the “If you do this, I’ll give you that” with some information or choices.


This ‘How Rewarding A Child Can Turn Out Bad’ is taken and inspired from the book best-selling book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen

Don’t forget to read our ‘How To Talk To Kids’ blog series to get more insight regarding parenting kids and how to make them listen to you!

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