But good things can become harmful when they are abused. Food is good in moderation, but overeating is bad for your health. Alcohol is not bad in moderation, but can be deadly if abused.
The same is true with rewards. In and of themselves, they are good. But I believe there is such a thing in parenting as reward abuse. And it is when rewards are abused that they become ineffective and even counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish in our parenting.
Reward Abuse happens when parents:
- Reward a child for every single good thing he does
- Use it as a bribe to get things done that kids should do anyway (like clean their room or help with the dishes)
- Reward a child with things to make up for a lack of love and attention
- Reward for only good performances in sports or music or whatever your child does
- Reward with things that can send a wrong message. Rewarding with unhealthy food may instill in a child the idea that sweets or junk food should always be a reward, or rewarding with money may build expectations in a child that they will always get money when they do something.
How to stop Reward Abuse
When used properly, rewards are wonderful. We all like getting a reward, don’t we?
The question is, what’s the best way to use rewards with your kids? You may want to come up with your own guidelines, but here are some suggestions.
- Decide what chores should be done without rewards and what extra work deserves a reward. This is an individual family choice, and no one way is the right way. But once you make that determination, stick to it.
- Be creative in your rewarding. Look for ways to reward your child that will truly surprise them. Maybe it’s a surprise water balloon fight, or a spontaneous campout in the back yard. Rewards don’t always have to be a thing you give your child; they can come in the form of something you and your child do.
- Give rewards for good effort and hard work, not just home runs and high scoring games.
- Don’t ever, ever use your love as a reward. Be sure your child knows that your love is unconditional and constant, and has nothing to do with his behavior.
- When your child does something wonderful, express your pride in them and their hard work, not just in the thing they accomplished. Reward the intangibles–a good attitude, a team player attitude, an unselfish gesture.
- Sometimes, reward your child even when he did nothing to earn it. There are occasions when it is fun to give your child a reward for no reason, just cuz.
- Your child should never have to earn the reward of positive, life-giving words. That kind of affirmation should be a natural outflow of your love for them. Don’t shut off that flow just because you feel they didn’t deserve a reward.
- As soon as you see an attitude of entitlement in your child, it’s time to re-evaluate your reward system. When kids start demanding their rewards and expect them a bit too vigorously, change up the methods to keep them guessing.
Rewards are a tricky thing
Using rewards to encourage good behavior may take some trial and error in your house. It’s a tricky thing. We want to reinforce the good stuff in our kids and discourage the bad, without reinforcing that all of life should be lived to get a reward.
The reason for rewards is to encourage good habits and behavior that will become a lifestyle as your kids get older.
Which means that you as a parent must be intentional about formulating a reward philosophy that will truly help your child learn, grow, and be challenged.