Should parents use rewards to get children to do as told?

Author: Gool Bugwadia

Getting children to behave in acceptable ways may oft seem to be an uphill task, even for the most discerning parents. The general complaint being, that most often parents have to resort to threats leading to conflicts; while in some instances, bribes or [to put it more mildly!] rewards are necessitated.  Most parents today have to wrestle with the dilemma of whether it’s right or wrong to use rewards to get children to do as told; they wonder if this really is a smart way to discipline their child!

We often hear a parent say, “If you get good grades in your test, we can go to the beach this week-end” or “if you tidy up your room, you’ll get your favorite ice-cream.” Child psychologists believe that choosing to take an easy way out by offering bribes or rewards for doing things which your child should be doing in the first place, would be detrimental to his/her complete development. Studies indicate that if this trend is habitually continued, you could be doing your children great disservice. So, what other strategies parents can use to get children to conform?

The best strategy for parents would be to focus on the positives. Let your kids know how nice it would be to be mommy’s helper and how much their help means to you. You could try teaching something like, “I need your cooperation to help me do a better job at parenting” or “I would so much appreciate your help in cleaning so that we can all enjoy together the extra free time.” Encourage your children to conform; don’t wait for them to do something wrong to interact with them. Acknowledge your kids when they do something good; be lavish in your praise like, “Great job!” or “How wonderful that you completed your home-work so quickly.”

No doubt, it is the parent’s prerogative and responsibility to discipline and steer their children in the right direction. It would indeed be O.K. for them to put a firm taboo on disrespectful behavior or excessive use of television, internet or telephone. However, constant prodding, scolding or nagging could turn out to be counter-productive for children and exasperating for parents. Instead, it would be more effective for parents to adopt a milder approach, modify their reactions positively and reassure children of having their best interests at heart.

Children need a strong, loving leadership from parents. They need to understand what life is all about, what their place in your household is and how best they could fit in without creating the least discord. Home is the best place where your child can be taught to abide by the rules and share household duties. Assigning age-appropriate chores is one way of teaching kids good work habits without the need for constant reminders. Parents need to let children know explicitly what they want them to do and show them the way by their own example and not merely by giving directions.

As children move towards independence, they detest being dictated to or ordered to do something. It could happen that they become wary of adults infringing on their freedom and make them more rebellious.  To avoid undermining your child’s freedom, listen carefully to their viewpoints and refrain from, “My way is better, I want you to do it this way”—which could direct arguments and disharmony in your home. Avoid judging or criticizing your child with words like “your laziness is detestable.” An outburst of parental anger or verbal abuse is unacceptable and damaging to a child’s ego. At the same time, offering materialistic rewards  would not be an ideal solution for parents.

In the final analysis, positive reinforcements more than rewards, are the key motivations to getting children to do as told. The choice and tone of words you use and the behavior and actions you demonstrate can be the single greatest determinant on how effective your parenting style is. “Tough love” can have a greater positive impact on your child’s life than all the cajoling, reasoning and rewarding put together.

Sources: Raising a self-disciplined Child by Robert Brooks, Ph.D. & Sam Goldstein, Ph. D.

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  1. Carol said on November 30th at 3:35 pm:

    Great article pointing out the downside of rewarding (or bribing) children to conform.
    Children live up to expectations and if you expect your child to do what you ask, reinforcing that expectation with positive comments, as this author advises, the result is apt to be a peaceful and harmonious family life.

  2. Nancy Browne said on December 4th at 7:34 pm:

    Miss Gool,

    This was a very interesting topic, and I was impressed by your strategy. You plan of action seems so appropriate and indeed makes a great deal of sense.
    I know many families that do reward their children in numerous ways, with “monetary rewards” as well as with bribes. To me, this only teaches a child to do well because he knows there will be a reward. Children need to do well for their own benefit, and be taught that it really is in their best interest to do so.
    Your article, of course fine tunes this point, and it was a pleasure to read.
    Positive reinforcements, as you state, is really the best way to conform a child.

    Nancy Browne

  3. pell grant said on January 1st at 5:52 am:

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