The bad influence of school.

My child has now been at school for four months, meaning he is spending more time away from the family home than he has ever done before. This means, of course, that he is more prone to influences other than those he encounters at home.

Now I don’t mind him coming home announcing that he’s Darth Vader and I’m dead. I don’t mind that I’ve had my first ‘all the other children do’ (in this case in relation to bags of crisps in lunch boxes). But what I do mind very much is that last night he helped me tidy up some crayons, then asked me if he could have a reward for helping. Aaargh!! The horror, the horror!

If you haven’t already read them, my previous posts, “What’s wrong with rewards?” and “Sticker crazy!”, will fill you in on my position here. But to summarise, here are six reasons why I don’t use rewards:

1. Rewards teach a child to focus on self gain.

Quite simply, rewards encourage a child to think of things in terms of what’s in it for them – self interest.

2. Extrinsic motivation sabotages intrinsic motivation.
When we reward a child with motivators like chocolate, stickers or special outings, we increase their extrinsic motivation, and studies have shown that as this increases, intrinsic motivation decreases. Intrinsic motivation is the type we want them to have as it represents a true commitment to something, not a superficial interest merely as a means to an end.

3. Rewards encourage a child to focus on parental approval, not on the effect of their behaviour on others.
For example, when a child is rewarded for sharing, this shifts their focus to the approval of their parent, and away from the effect their behaviour has had on whoever they are sharing with.

4. Rewards model undesirable behaviour.
Let’s not kid ourselves, rewards are basically bribery. At any rate they represent someone using manipulative methods to produce a particular behaviour. This is not the type of behaviour I wish to model for my child.

5. Rewards create an environment of conditional acceptance.
It’s all very well telling ourselves how delighted our children are when they get a reward, but the flip side is how do they feel when they don’t? Like they’ve failed, let us down, aren’t good enough, and are unaccepted, unloved…..These are all possibilities I would put forward.

6. Rewards are often used to bring about a change to a child’s behaviour which benefits the adult, without addressing a child’s underlying need.
A parent might start a reward chart to try to encourage a child to, say, stay in bed. But a child’s behaviour is telling us something, expressing a need. A parent needs to get to the bottom of this and find ways to address it. Rewarding the problem away is simply brushing it under the carpet, to re-emerge in the form of another unwanted behaviour.

I always knew my child would be subject to these ill considered reward systems when he went to school, so this isn’t exactly a surprise. It just makes me sad to see my child, with his natural good nature and inclination to please, doing something with an ulterior motive like this.

I am still trying to come up with a good response, as I anticipate this will not be the last of such incidents.


4 Responses to The bad influence of school.

  1. marytuda says:

    Yep – I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with systematic rewards for small kids, and this summarises the reasons pretty succinctly. It’s great to have one’s instincts confirmed!

  2. Lorna says:

    Depends how the system is enforced. If you use rewards as bribery – wrong. If you use rewards (stickers) as a consequence for doing something right – good. The action will soon become a habit and the stickers won’t be necessary. Adults in the workplace have incentives and targets – and yes, chn should learn to do things because they are right whether they are rewarded or not. I take my cue from the Bible. God says there will be rewards for those who serve Him.

    • Jo says:

      Interesting. Where do you make the distinction between rewards for good behaviour and bribery? ‘If you put your shoes on you’ll get a sticker’. ‘If you stand in line, or sit quietly you’ll get a sticker’. All sounds like bribery to me. When do you feel it is not?

      Alfie Kohn, who, incidently, also believes we shouldn’t have incentives in the workplace, would argue that the assumption that the stickers will make the action a habit and so become unnecessary is incorrect. The child is only externally motivated and so will eventually lose interest in the action, and likely need a bigger reward to continue with it.

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