Are you rewarding good behaviour, or bribing your child by doing so? Human nature is such that we respond to positive reinforcement – that is, any form of positive reaction to something that we do. Some parents, though, disapprove of using incentives to encourage their child to behave appropriately. In their view, this is simply bribery. A child shouldn’t have to be “paid” in order to behave responsibly, they say.
However, there are other factors to consider. First, an occasional treat for good behaviour won’t do your child any harm. As long as the rewards are sporadic, your child won’t expect to receive one every time.
Second, there is a difference between promising your child a reward beforehand in order to persuade him to finish his homework on time, and giving him a reward afterwards because you are so pleased he completed his homework without complaint. The timing of the incentive is important.
Third, the term “bribe” suggests a sinister underlying purpose for the action, when in reality, all you are trying to do is encourage more appropriate behaviour.
Do rewards for good behaviour work?
Rewards and incentives don’t have the same effect on your child every time. When using them, consider the following:
Make it reasonable
The reward should be appropriate for the behaviour. Otherwise, your child will become confused. Buying him a new bicycle because he helped his younger sister in the morning wouldn’t make sense to him. Small rewards are often more effective than larger ones too.
Vary the rewards
When used too frequently, the effect of any one incentive lessens. So use a mix of physical incentives (such as a new CD or extra television time) and emotional incentives (such as a word of praise, an appreciative hug or a loving remark).
Change the behaviour
You want your child to behave sensibly and responsibly out of respect and consideration for others, and not because of a reward. If he behaves well only so he can receive a promised reward, then there is no reason for him to continue to do so once he has received it.
This is why psychologists have found that behaviour-change programmes based solely on a tangible reward system rarely achieve anything more than a temporary effect – the original misbehaviour returns soon after the rewards stop.
Instead, encourage your child to behave well because of the pleasure he receives from showing thoughtfulness to his friends and family. He will behave more responsibly when he learns to value himself, other people, and his relationships with them. You can achieve this more effectively through discussions and explanations than with promises of toys, presents, money or treats.
5 tips to try
1. Never try to stop your child in the middle of an episode of misbehaviour by promising that you will give him a reward if he stops misbehaving.
2. Occasionally, give your child a reward for good behaviour even though he does not expect it.
3. Avoid rewards that escalate too much in scale, or the rewards will become more important to him than the behaviour they are associated with.
4. Ask your child to do something for you without promising a reward for completing it.
5. Give your child a reward when you see him trying hard to behave properly, whether or not he actually achieves his target.
(Also read: 6 ways to break bad habits)