First, let’s clear up one big point, and call a spade a spade. A reward, as commonly referred to, is actually a bribe. In the adult world, this is criminal behavior. Do I have your attention? Is this really what we want to teach our children? I can support an occasional reward, for after-the-fact exemplary behavior, but not for a routine parenting technique. We shouldn’t have to buy good behavior. It may sound idealistic, but I want children to act good because it feels good, and because they know it is the right thing to do. I don’t think this is asking too much. Don’t we feel good when we are kind and generous? We take away from children, that internal pleasure, when we train them to expect external rewards.
So, how do we do this? The obvious answer is modeling kind and moral behavior, perhaps commenting on how good it feels to be helpful. You can look for the smallest signs of kind or helpful behavior and congratulate your child, without calling attention to negative behavior. Trust me, it is better to ignore unless someone is being hurt. Basically, anything you can do to help your child feel that he/she is contributing to the family or community will lead to increased self- esteem. That self -esteem should be the reward in and of itself. I know I just made that sound unbelievably simple; and it’s not really that simple. But there is only so much I can say in this one small column. I whole-heartedly believe that the method of positive discipline that Jane Nelson professes is necessary to help us guide our children to be socially and emotionally healthy (without using rewards and punishments).
In the short space left, I will briefly touch on the problem with punishment. Most notably, it creates anger, fear and resentment in children. It does nothing to help the child want to do or act better. It may help parents feel that they are in control (which actually only lasts for as long as the punishment is in effect), but there are many other tools that can and should be used. Natural and logical consequences is one of these tools (also another topic entirely). Again, I will defer to the wisdom of Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline Method. I use her techniques in my school so I know how effective they are. (I also teach this method to our parents.)