When parent’s find themselves struggling with their child’s behaviour they often try any strategy they can in hopes of changing their child’s behaviour. The thing is do rewards work long term and can they do more harm than good?
Why do parents use reward charts?
Parents use reward charts becuase they want to manipulate children with incentives in order to get their child to change their behaviour. Parents are more likely to use rewards as a last resort when they feel powerless and can’t get their child to listen and confrom. “Do this and you’ll get that” dangling goodies such as sweets, chocolate, stickers infront of a child for good behaviour.
Do reward charts work though?
The thing is do reward charts actually work? Do a google search and you will come up with hundreds of pages supporting reward charts and even examples of reward charts you can print out and use for your ow.n children.
As a parenting coach I’m not actually an advocate of reward charts and I help parents move away from using them. One of the main reasons being these approaches focus on managing surface behaviours and are not grounded in current neuroscience and lack any understanding of emotional development.
When we shift to an approach that is backed by neuroscience we can strive to properly meet a child’s relational, emotional and physiological needs which would naturally improve behaviour without having to resort to rewards or consequences.
The risk of rewards
Studies over many years have found that behavior modification programs are rarely successful at producing lasting changes in attitudes or even behavior. When the rewards stop, people usually return to the way they acted before the program began. More disturbingly, researchers have recently discovered that children whose parents make frequent use of rewards tend to be less generous than their peers (Fabes et al., 1989; Grusec, 1991; Kohn 1990).
Indeed, extrinsic motivators do not alter the emotional or cognitive commitments that underlie behavior–at least not in a desirable direction. A child promised a treat for learning or acting responsibly has been given every reason to stop doing so when there is no longer a reward to be gained.
Research and logic suggest that punishment and rewards are not really opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Both strategies amount to ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior–in one case, prompting the question, “What do they want me to do, and what happens to me if I don’t do it?”, and in the other instance, leading a child to ask, “What do they want me to do, and what do I get for doing it?” Neither strategy helps children to grapple with the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?”