Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Discipline Without Rewards

A few weeks ago, an interesting discussion began in the comments section of my On Children, Parents and the Use of Force post. A few astute and thoughtful readers brought up the issue of rewards, and suggested that I ought to clarify my thoughts on that due to some ambiguity with the way I was using the term. I've been thinking this over quite a lot since then, and I think I'm ready to address it.

Please know that while I am still firmly anti-reward, I'm still thinking through my explanation of my reasons. This is a first attempt (and I'm going to TRY to make it short-ish). I've no doubt that I'll think of other things to add and if you find anything confusing, please let me know in the comments of this post.

The post on the use of force was my first real attempt to pull together some of the ideas I've been writing about over the last year or so into one spot. One thing I left out of it though (I know! It could have been even longer!), and which deserves repeating for the benefit of this post (and others), is why I'm trying to think all of this out, and be so explicit. Here, I'll try to bullet point, maybe that'll be more succinct:

  • I want my children to be happy in their lives.
  • In order to be happy, you need to be virtuous (independent, rational, just, honest, have integrity and pride, and be productive).
  • Therefore, I want them to understand these virtues, practice them, and see examples of them in our home. Hopefully when they're older, they will embrace them as we have.

In other words, just as I should do my absolute best to make sure my kids acquire educational tools that they will need as independent adults--reading and math--I should do my absolute best to make sure they acquire the virtues they will need to be happy.

Also important to keep in mind:

  • Children are learning all the time--in addition to reading and math, they are learning how to act.
  • Children have free will, but are predisposed (at least when young!) to give their parents' ideas a try, or at least a hearing.
  • Children learn by watching others, by copying, by trying, from success and failure, through the choices they make.
  • Children are neither irrational adults nor highly intelligent animals. They are humans who are learning to be rational.

With me? (I hope?) All right, moving on.

One question I've been asking myself since I got pregnant with our first child is: How, as an Objectivist who is also a parent, is the best way to raise my kids so that they have a lot of experience using the virtues?

I want my children, at the time they leave home and head out on their own (sniff), to have seen for themselves (not because I said so!) the benefits that come with being honest and productive, etc. Hopefully when they're adults, they'll each make a conscious decision to pursue their own values according to those virtues (that is, become moral people). I think if they do that, then they'll be happy.

One way they'll learn about the virtues for themselves is through getting lots and lots of practice. As I've written previously, I think it's best to let kids experience the consequences of their choices and actions--for good or ill. It's good experience and they will learn something!

However, there are times when the full consequences shouldn't happen--when the child's life, limb, or long-term health is at risk of serious or irreparable harm. Or when the rights of others are being violated (or will probably be violated). That's where parenting happens--to protect them from terrible consequences (running out into traffic), or to protect someone else from a rights-violation (one child hitting another).

Adults get to experience the full-on effects of their decisions (rational or irrational). If adults want to risk their lives doing something foolhardy like, I don't know, jump off a house roof into a shallow swimming pool during an electrical storm, then they will experience the consequences of doing that. Children, just learning rationality, deserve to be protected from the consequences of such decisions. The parenting safety net helps get them to adulthood, at which time they'll be free to make crazy decisions like that. :o)

So then the question becomes, is there a way I can set appropriate limits and enforce them as necessary without interfering too much with their chances to learn about virtuous behavior? The discipline method that I have found that best suits my goals is non-punitive discipline, aka "Positive Discipline" or "positive parenting."

And now we--finally!--get to the point of this post! (Hooray!) I've already written about how we don't punish our kids here, so I won't be talking much about traditional punishment in this post.

Okay. Rewards. Part of the problem in the Force post is that the word "reward" has many connotations. So let me define exactly what I'm talking about. Alfie Kohn, in his book Punished By Rewards, defines rewarding as a parent saying to a child "Do X and then you'll get Y." If you can put the interaction into If-Then terms, then it might be a reward. That is what we do not do around here with our kids--promise them something in order to get them to behave in a certain way.

Parental intent and manner is perhaps the most important factor in whether or not any given interaction between parent and child is the kind of reward I am advocating against. How a situation is handled by Mom can make a non-reward situation into a reward situation. (Back in the summer, I wrote about a time when I enforced a limit with Morgan--she lost the use of her art supplies for a day because she wasn't helping put them away. I could have enforced that in a punishing way, but I didn't. This same idea applies to rewards.)

I think I'm better at definition-by-example, so maybe this will help clarify what I am talking about (I hope!):


Rewards are:

  • A piece of candy or a toy each time a kid does something desirable: If you pee in the potty, I'll give you an M&M.
  • A gold star system for certain behaviors: If you brush your teeth without whining for 10 nights in a row, you'll get a prize.
  • Promises of future extra privileges (tv time, a fun outing) in exchange for good behavior now: Look, be quiet now and you'll get to play a video game later.

Rewards are not:

  • Celebrating an achievement with a child who is clearly proud of her achievement: Hooray! You used the potty all day today!
  • Something good that happens as a natural result of a kid's behavior: No cavities at the dentist check up. (This "natural consequence" may be rewarding, certainly, but it is not something provided to the child by Mom and Dad.)
  • A list of things a person needs to remember to do: Keeping a bedtime checklist is something we've done as a tool to help people remember all of their bedtime tasks--using the potty, brush teeth, pick up clothes in room, etc.
  • A negotiated-ahead-of-time (with both parties, kid and adult, having equal negotiating power) trade: Dad: I know you want to play a computer game with me, but I have to rake the leaves now. What if we make a deal? You help me out now and then we'll get to play the game quicker.
  • Doing something to make a not-so-fun job more fun: Cleaning up time isn't our favorite thing in the whole world. Why don't we put some music on to listen to while we're working?
I hope those examples help distinguish between If-Then rewards (or reward systems) and situations that might be rewarding. Another way to look at it is if the fun thing or system under discussion can be taken away by the parent and used to punish or threaten the child for not behaving, that's the kind of rewarding I don't use. So for the purposes of the rest of this post, please know that I'm talking about If-Then Rewards.


Why I Don't Reward

My primary objection to using rewards is that the process involves a kind of mental bait-and-switch tactic. It takes (some or all of) the child's attention away from what needs to be done and why and places (some or all of) his attention onto the reward. In encouraging the child to switch his focus away from the rational reasons he ought to engage in a certain behavior, he is losing a valuable opportunity to learn some deeper ethical lessons. (And I really think getting practical experience in using the virtues helps a child gain a better understanding of their benefits. A child will learn the value of honesty much more effectively by trying it out--or not--than by hearing me talk about how great honesty is.)

If-Then Rewarding, while certainly effective in getting a child to act in a particular way, doesn't reinforce the more abstract ideas of independence and responsibility and other great things I think my kids need to practice and understand thoroughly before heading out into the world. Kohn gives the example of using a reward to get a kid to take out the garbage. The kid takes out the garbage and gets his reward. The action has been performed and now everyone is happy. He's learned where to put the garbage, but he's learned nothing about responsibility, which is more important overall than the learning the physical action of taking out the garbage.

Now, if the kid is refusing to take out the garbage, and I simply enforce the limit and help him do it (by putting the bag in his hand and walking him out to the garbage can), he may or may not learn something about responsibility, that is very true. But his attention will remain on the task and the reasons for it and the fact that it's important enough that Mom is willing to help him do it. There is nothing shiny to take his attention off of these things. If he is rewarded (bribed) to do this job, he is more likely to miss the responsibility message entirely, or mistakenly integrate the idea of responsibility as "something I take care of in order to get a prize."

I want my kids to learn to do the right things because they are the right things to do. I do not want my kids to learn to do the right things because I give them a prize if they do it (or punish them for not doing it). This kind of "moral practice" will pay off for them in the long-run.

(Also, there is abundant evidence that reward systems, for kids and adults, do not produce lasting changes in behavior. There's a lot of this discussed in Kohn's book. That falls into the realm of psychology I believe; my objections are primarily philosophical.)


Enforcing Limits--the only Parental Action Necessary


I've tried to make the above point many times, but never so explicitly. Many parents (including me, once upon a time) think that in order to drive a lesson home, something needs to be done to the child. So the parent enforces a limit and then doles out a punishment. Or she enforces a limit by offering the child a reward in exchange for the desired within-the-limit behavior.

Kids WILL learn how to behave through the enforcement of limits. That is all the parenting intervention necessary.


I like to compare limit-setting to training wheels. The training wheels are there to help the kid learn how to correct his balance and protect him a little at the same time. Too far one way . . . oops! . . . the training wheels hit and the kid is (usually) prevented from tipping all the way over, and can correct his balance and lean the other way. Over time, the training wheels get raised, as the kid needs less and less correction and protection. After a while, they're removed altogether because he's gained the skill and can be safe.

There is no need for there to be an additional punishment or reward for learning to ride a bike. If the kid leans too far to one side, there's no mechanism on the training wheels that reaches up and smacks his hand to teach him a lesson, to reinforce the fact that he made a mistake. There's no automatic candy dispenser that doles out M & M's for every tenth of a mile traveled without an overcorrection, in order to encourage him to stay perfectly balanced. No, the training wheels set a limit and enforce it, and protect him some all at the same time. And that's how I see my role as parent--set and enforce (rational) limits, while protecting them (and others) at the same time. Nothing more.

So how about a real-life example? I think anyone reading this will probably agree that it's important for people to wear their seatbelts in the car regularly. (And if you don't, then just play along for a moment. :o) )

Ryan sits in a booster seat with a regular shoulder belt now. He's tested the "Wear your Seatbelt in the Car" limit a few times, unbuckling himself while the car is moving. Here are some of the things I've done to enforce our limit:

  • Sat in the back with him and held the buckle in place.
  • Moved him from the back row to the middle row so that I can more easily see if he's unbuckled himself, and so that one of us can reach back there and hold the buckle if necessary.
  • Pulled the car over and stopped and waited until he buckled back up.
I didn't punish him by taking away a toy for each unbuckling incident. Nor did I give him any kind of prize for remaining buckled. I simply enforced the limit (over his often loud objections) and explained (usually in a calmer time) my reasons for this limit.

He now remains buckled all the time. He has learned and respects this limit. He knows how important it is. He knows that if he tests it again that I will do one or more of the above things each and every time. Again. He knows that I will not stop doing those things until I can trust him to remain buckled. He knows this because I am consistent in enforcing this limit. He knows that I will enforce this limit with his sister and brother when they move into booster seats. He knows that this is his responsibility and willingly manages it, usually without any reminders.

Another quick example--Epipens. Ryan is very responsible about remembering his Epipens. I have not had to develop a reward system designed to encourage him to remember them. We simply talk about it, remind each other to bring them, and if we forget them, then we have to leave the fun place we were heading to (like the playground) and return home.


There's more I'd like to say about this issue, but I think I'll stop here for now. I hope I've made my point about rewards more clearly. I can think of a few more reward-related posts, and now that my background thinking is out here in the blogosphere, it will be easier (for me) to write more specific posts on this topic. Oh, wait, there is one more thing.

In the comments section of the post on the use of force, there was some objection to my statement that rewards are a kind of coercion. According to one dictionary, "coerce" can mean: to compel to an act or choice; or to achieve by force or threat. I think these two definitions (the second and third as found in that particular online dictionary) apply to If-Then Rewards. To reiterate one of the main points of my post on force--there is a time and place for parents to compel a child to an act or a choice (enforcing a limit). When a parent uses If-Then Rewards to compel a child to do a particular something, that is one method of setting and enforcing a limit. That is the sense in which I was using coercion. [UPDATE: I am currently re-thinking the use of this word per some feedback in the comments. I think that the imbalance of power that naturally exists in the parent-child relationship makes this an accurate word. However, I am wary of muddying the waters where this concept is concerned, especially among non-Objectivists, so I'm re-thinking this. Thanks.]

Questions and comments (especially the thought-provoking kind) are welcome. :o)

12 comments:

Diana Hsieh said...

I liked your post a great deal, but I do have two objections.

First, that definition of reward by Kohn -- as "a parent saying to a child 'Do X and then you'll get Y'" -- is terrible! It would make all claims about causality into rewards. That's absurd! So citing that definition doesn't help clarify anything; it only confuses. Your examples, however, are helpful.

Here's what I think you need to say:

Punishments and rewards are both extrinsic motivators. They are attempts to motivate a child to act in a certain way, yet lack any natural connection to the child's behavior, except the say-so of the parent. Punishments are negative extrinsic motivators, and rewards are positive extrinsic motivators. They are both destructive in parenting, because they focus the child's attention on something other than the real-life, natural consequences of his actions. Those real-life consequences are intrinsic motivators. They are genuine reasons to act one way rather than another; they depend on facts, not on people's whims. If a child is to become a rational and virtuous adult, he must not only learn those intrinsic motivators, but also habitually focus on them. Punishments and rewards only hinder that moral education; they inculcate a second-handed, duty-oriented approach to morality.

Second: I strongly object to your use of "force," not just to describe rewards, but also to describe many commonplace punishments. (Undoubtedly, beating a child is using force, but taking away his toys as a punishment is not, because they're actually your toys. So I think the term is wrong for not just rewards but also most punishments.)

By speaking of punishments and rewards as "force," you are appealing to the standard statist conception of force. On that package-deal, any attempt to motivate someone to do something that you want (like by raising or lowering their wages) is akin to physical force (e.g. raping, mugging, kidnapping).

That view is completely wrong, as you know. To my surprise, your dictionary definition is clear on this point: all of its definitions of force pertain to genuine physical force, not the kinds of motivators that you speak of.

Basically, your use of the term relies on and endorses that statist package-deal. Even if you only mean it to apply to parenting, and even if Objectivists know what you mean, you're lending support to a very common and very destructive confusion.

Here's another way of putting it: If rewarding a kid with M&Ms for using the potty is force, then paying Brendan his wages for his work is force. The actions are exactly the same: you're motivating someone to do something that they wouldn't otherwise do by offering them a reward. You can't have it both ways: either the term "force" applies in both kinds of cases or in neither case.

Kevin McAllister said...

Thank you for this clarifying post. I do understand more, but I continue to be confused by the complete disdain for any type of reward systems.

Often long complex chains of causality are required to achieve your values, where many minor and seemingly unrelated achievements are combined to create a major achievement for which you gain something you wanted. Examples are winning a contract, learning a new complex skill, or delivering and selling your product.

Some non-zero percentage of those complex types of achievements is drudgery of the highest degree, and has no implicit reward except the reward it shares with banging your head against a wall, that is, it's good to finally stop.

How do you give your children practice in navigating this type of scenario? A good example is actually sports or karate. The stuff you do as a white belt or yellow belt can seem pretty silly, and you are given a belt as a means to show your progress toward a larger goal. There is no natural consequence of being able to throw a passable front kick, do a simple form and know how to throw a straight punch that results in new clothing. But without the symbolic rewards, or recognition of belts I suspect most karate instructors would be out of business.

Isn't a list of chores required to be done regularly, tied to allowance or some other negotiated reward a perfect chance to learn the consequences of performing or failing to perform a complex set of tasks? Even better of course are long term projects pulling together many tasks into an obvious whole like building a robot or design and sew a costume or clothing.

But isn't there a reward for taking out the trash in your example? Mom keeps after me unless I take it out, so it's best to just do it. You've essentially showed him that yes taking out the trash is very important, so important that you'll make him do it, but what is the natural motivation? It seems like it's so Mom won't nag me. So it's not part of earning a new shiny, but, it's something to be endured so as not to endure worse. Certainly not the same as in learning to ride a bike.

Ed said...

This is an excellent article. To me, the establishment of good and meaningful values in our children is the greatest reward we could ever give them. Please see the press release and short synopsis of my latest book that deals with this subject. Thank you.
The Value of Values
www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/thevalueofvalues.html

An individual’s values are established in childhood and serve as filters when determining right from wrong throughout the person’s life. In today’s society, the process of establishing values within children is given little concern. People place greater emphasis on day to day activities and personal ambitions, than they do on the establishment of values within their children. By default, parents are teaching their children that values such as integrity, respect for life, courage of conviction, a purposeful life and generosity, are secondary to making a living.

In truth, there is nothing preventing us from being true to good and meaningful values, nor is anything preventing us from teaching our values to our children. It is a matter of priorities; a matter of choice.

In the “The Value of Values” you will learn why a transition to a more values-conscious society is important. You will learn exactly what is needed from each individual and the activities that will sustain the drive. “The Value of Values” is a must read for every parent that is concerned about our society and the challenges our children will be facing.

We have three possible choices:
1) Do nothing different than that which we have been doing. Complacently accept things as they are and will be.
2) Hope that someone else will make the needed changes within our society, despite the fact it has yet to be done, and no one displays the integrity needed to influence an entire society.
3) Accept our personal responsibility to our children. Accept that real change is not passed down from leaders, but rather, it is driven up from the people. Accept the fact that we each have within us the ability and incentive to make things different for our children and grand children.

The choice we make today will determine the society of tomorrow.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

THE VALUE OF VALUES

Five-Time Author Teaches Us We Can Each Make a Difference – The Choice is Ours

The Value of Values educates us on how to establish a culture that will ensure harmony for generations to come and diminish the aggressive ways of the powerful…just by teaching our children values.

Did you know that an individual’s values are established in childhood and serve as filters when determining right from wrong throughout the person’s life? In today’s society, this process of establishing values within our children is given little concern. How are our children supposed to grow up to be adults with values if we’re not teaching them values from the beginning?

The responsibilities of parenting have become a reactionary process whereby each parent is doing whatever he or she must do in order to just get through life. By default, we are teaching our children that values such as integrity, respect for life, courage of conviction, purposefulness and generosity are secondary to making a living. In truth, there is absolutely nothing stopping us from being true to good and meaningful values except ourselves.

The Value of Values teaches us the required actions and reasons this important transition is needed. This book identifies what it will take from each of us to sustain the drive to pass our values onto our children.

Publisher’s Web site: www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/TheValueOfValues.html
ISBN: 978-1-60860-381-7 / SKU: 1608603814

About the Author:
Ed Gagnon is a vice president at a manufacturing company in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. The Value of Values is his fifth published book, and he has more in the works.


For media inquiries, appearances, or other publicity — please contact:
Ellen Green — PressManager@aegpublishinggroup.com

Bill Brown said...

Rewards are not any form of coercion. They can be manipulation, but I can think of many examples of rewards in real life that aren't manipulation and aren't irrational: bonuses, commissions, self-given (or even from one partner to another in a relationship) treats for sticking to goals, actual rewards for returning of lost property, rebates, and so on.

Rewards aren't inherently behavioristic and needn't be manipulative in childhood either. I've paid my children to do special chores and I could just as easily told them to do it for free. It hasn't led to them not doing any task unless there's remuneration. With some children, it might and I'd be hesitant to apply any rewards with them.

We used rewards with one child during potty training. It enticed her to sit on the toilet and try. I'm happy to report that she does not require M&Ms to go to the bathroom and hasn't for the several years since she got the hang of using the toilet.

Dessert in our house is a reward for finishing one's dinner. (Or, conversely, it's withholding is a punishment for not finishing one's dinner. Same coin.) One girl eats whatever qualifies her for dessert; another eats whatever she wants and doesn't care if dessert is foregone or not; and the last girl eats whatever's on her plate--often asks for seconds--with dessert being incidental. Each eating style reflects the daughter's personality: sweet tooth, eats only sparingly, and enjoys eating. The reward gets sweet tooth to eat, means nothing to picky, and is a nice capper for the gourmand.

In the end, rewards and punishments are a fact of life for both children and adults. No one lives by intrinsic motivation alone. Attempts to paper over external motivation are easily seen through by children, as Kevin notes.

Rational Jenn said...

Thank you all for your constructive comments. I really appreciate them.

Diana, I think your explanation of punishments and rewards is right on the money. Thank you, and I will quote this in a future post, I think.

I think I hear what you're saying about the use word "force." I'm still thinking this through, but I have a couple of clarifications.

First, I think I will switch to using the word "manipulation" (or possibly something else) to avoid confusion on this issue.

I certainly don't consider an employer changing someone's wage as a use of force (not that you were suggesting I thought this, but wanted to go on the record).

But one thing that is different in the parent-child relationship is the existence of an inherent imbalance of power. I'm the Mommy, and I hold most of the power. When it comes right down to it, I can probably win any battle I choose to engage (at least while they're small). They know it, and I know it. There's a lot I can do to them to make them do things, and relatively few things they can do "back" to me. If an employer lowers my wages, then I'm free to look for another job. Kids don't have such an option.

So in that sense, the paying a kid a piece of candy for using the potty isn't quite the same as an adult getting paid to do a job. I'd say it's more akin to the government paying me to upgrade my water heater. (Yes, that's a voluntary program, but what if it becomes mandatory someday?) I think it's because I am constantly aware of this "imbalance of power" that the word "force" seemed logical to use. I hope that clarifies where I was coming from, at any rate.

However, I see what you're saying and until I can figure out a way to be perfectly clear so that I am not adding to the standard confusion.

Rational Jenn said...

Kevin and Bill, I hope I can address some of the points both of you made in this one comment.

I am not at all against the positive, rewarding consequences that happen as a result of hard work. My oldest is in Taekwondo, and he has experienced the reward of pride and new belts! as he has progressed through the ranks. Colorful belts are part of the martial arts experience, and so I think it's awesome when he earns a new belt.

But what if I wanted to motivate him even more to do well in TKD, especially if he didn't enjoy it? Well then I might offer him a prize every time he earns a new belt, or money for attending class. Something outside of and apart from the rewards that come simply from working hard in TKD.

Those "outside of and apart from" rewards might tempt him to work harder in TKD. Maybe he'd practice at home more often or focus better in class. Maybe that would please me. Maybe that would please him.

Or maybe he'd stick with TKD longer than he would have otherwise because he wants the extra reward (when he could have been exploring and pursuing other values). Maybe he'd be hesitant to mention that he is injured because he doesn't want to miss a class and miss his extra reward. Or maybe other unintended consequences might arise that I can't predict.

There may be positive or negative results of my extra reward system. I have no idea what those result might be--and that's something to consider. Maybe I think I'm motivating him to do well, but I've really just made him scared to tell me about an injury. Maybe he'd learn to substitute my desire for him to purse that value for his own desire.

Most importantly, his motivation for doing TKD would no longer be wholly his. It's partly my motivating him, and my willingness to hand over a prize. His tangible goals would be his belt AND the prize. In real life, the belt is sufficient. He is super proud of his efforts and achievement when he goes up a rank.

Now to the garbage example. I said in the post that the kid may or may actually learn anything about responsibility if we do it my way. That's true. He may learn "this is important to Mom and I'd better do it on my own so she'll leave me alone." I think it's okay if the only thing they get out of a limit-enforcement is "Mom's going to make me do this." They don't have to like it or even completely get it. (Sean's very much at this stage now.)

Eventually (as they mature and get practice), they'll see the bigger picture, and begin to develop the sense of responsibility or other virtue (although there are no guarantees, what with the free will, of course).

But if I've distracted them with a shiny, if they've become accustomed to receiving a gift from me for handling their responsibilities, then that rewarding can interfere with the development of that underlying sense of responsibility that I'm hoping they'll figure out.

If I stick to enforcing the limit, then there's nothing else outside of and apart from the thing that needs doing to distract them from the more important issues at hand. If I reward them, especially if I make a habit of rewarding, it's possible they will miss the bigger points, and the chance to develop that sense of responsibility.

I hope this is at least somewhat helpful. I'm not feeling super great, so I suspect I could have written this response better had I been feeling on my game. At any rate, thank you very much for your comments. Helps me figure things out. :o)

Kelly Elmore said...

Bill, I'd like to ask you why you reward your kids with dessert for finishing their dinner? Here are my questions:

1. What made you think they needed this limit in the first place? Did they not eat just from hunger?

2. Do you worry that they will lose their own hunger signals by eating what you think they need rather than what their bodies tell them they need?

3. Do you think making dessert the reward and dinner the thing you do to get the reward sets up dessert as more appealing and dinner as less appealing than they would normally be?

Thanks,
Kelly

Bill Brown said...

Dessert is not so much a reward for finishing dinner as finishing dinner is a requirement for having dessert. It sounds the same, but it's really not.

I thought I did a good job of explaining its genesis, but perhaps I was unclear. To kids, dessert is always more appealing than the dinner. Maybe your child is unusual and doesn't look forward to dessert but every kid I have ever met loves dessert. What would transpire was that a child stopped eating halfway through the meal and said that she was full. But suddenly she was no longer full when dessert time came around. So we wasted half a meal because she was saving for dessert. Requiring dinner to be finished (where finished equals some reasonable quantity consumed) took care of the waste and insured adequate nutrition.

We're not overly concerned with their hunger signals because a) there's four of them and we're not operating a restaurant with short-order cooks, b) they would graze throughout the day and barely eat at mealtime, c) we portion appropriately already with a variety of options and they are too thin as it is, and d) they don't pull this sort of stunt at the other meals or at restaurants (where we never order dessert) so it's definitely a function of dessert.

Amy said...

Very interesting. Discipline with my 8-month-old is necessarily all about immediate direct consequences (we're working on biting = down off my lap) but I'm interested in thinking ahead.

What do you think about rewards for behavior that the parent desires for personal rather than real-life reasons? In the garbage example, there are good reasons to take out the garbage: if nobody did it, the house would fill with garbage and stink; everyone in the house has jobs they have to do to keep the house going, and today this is one of yours.

But I imagine I will sometimes want my kid to do things because of personal goals of mine, for instance, cooperate with family portrait sessions, because I want a nice picture to give Grandma. I don't want to present my want here as the same kind of fact as garbage needing to go out - I don't believe that making me happy is the same kind of obligation for my kid as doing things that are ultimately good for their own health, growth, etc. Yes, I hope my kid will learn that it can just feel good to do nice things for people you love, but I don't believe that kids get there faster by telling them that they *should* feel that way and so they are required now to do things one might do for that reason.

It seems to me that offering a bribe here ("if you're cooperative for the pictures, you get a shiny") acknowledges and respects that my kid doesn't have an intrinsic motivation here, that they're doing something *for me*, and in return I'm compensating them for their time and effort, which has a value. This does seem like a reward as you defined it, though. I am curious whether you have a no-reward alternative that I might want to apply in such a circumstance (once my kid gets old enough to understand bribes).

jody said...

Wow! You are a great parent!

Katrina said...

Hi Jenn,

As always I'm impressed with your dedication to your career!

You might be interested to know that (according to my sister's undergrad psych textbook at least) punishments and rewards are in fact damaging to children as well as animals when offered as incentives for behavior that is otherwise beneficial. We use punishment and reward to train animals do things that they have no natural reason to do, such as a bear riding a bicycle. However if you offered a bear a reward for foraging (in addition to the berries or whatever it finds), in the long run it would cause the bear to stop foraging, or at least forage less. This is akin to offering a child a treat for finishing their dinner. The same thing happens if you use punishment for failures, say if the bear doesn't forage and goes hungry.

Anyway, just an interesting tidbit. Since presumably you're never interested in a training a child to do something outside of his nature, you should never use punishment/reward in child rearing. That definitely flies in the face on conventional wisdom.

Daniel said...

Jenn: I hope you'll stop by and comment on my latest post, which defines reward explicitly, gives examples (including some that you say are not included), and gives a brief indication of why I don't think rewards are bad.