Friday, October 3, 2008

To Reward or Not to Reward?

Pretty soon the report cards will be coming home from school. Parents respond in a number of ways ranging from big rewards for terrific grades to loss of privileges for less than desirable grades. I have often overheard some of my children’s friends share stories about “what they got” for their report cards. My own children would inevitably ask, “Why don’t I get anything for my report card?” And I would have to explain in kid-terms why I did not care to indulge them for good grades. In trying to make the concept of “intrinsic rewards” sound child-friendly, I simply said that the feeling you have inside when you accomplish something is your reward. Children wrinkle their noses in confusion at this explanation, and parents often wonder if they did the right thing. If our job as parents is to prepare our children to be successful in the real world, are we doing them any favors by giving them prizes for doing their work? The reality is that this is not the way the world operates. Rather than giving children tangible rewards or buckets of praise, it is recommended that parents encourage their children with words such as “You can feel really good about getting a ‘B’ in such a tough course!”, or “You worked hard this semester!”. Even a low grade can be recognized as an accomplishment if the child studied and did her homework but still found taking tests difficult. Such feedback instills in a child a positive sense of self and a can-do attitude. They also learn to rely on themselves for rewards. That good feeling comes from inside, thus, it is intrinsic. If the response to good performance always comes from outside, then it is extrinsic. That can only happen as long as someone is around to take notice and dole out rewards. Intrinsic rewards are never too far away. They are also very inexpensive! Some parents like to set goals with their children for the next marking period. For example, parents can ask their child what she would like to improve upon for the next report card. If that goal is then met, parents can recognize the accomplishment with their child, preferably without giving a reward. If it is not achieved, the parent can ask the child what they think happened and what they think they can do to bring the grade up next time. I would love to hear some conversation about this topic! Parents, please weigh in and share your thoughts. Tell us what you do at report card time and what works in your homes!

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