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When Rewards Become Expected -What Are You Teaching?

Here’s a question we often field from parents:

“Should we continue to REWARD positive behavior once that behavior becomes “expected?”

That’s not a one-stop-shop answer.

Here’s the first part of the answer:

Ditch the rewards!  I encourage you to STOP USING REWARDS as a way to motivate behavior. Truly.

Rewards like stickers, candy, money, or treats for positive behaviors create an uncomfortable, problem-laced “what’s in it for me” attitude.” If that’s not bad enough, there’s an ever-growing body of research that spotlights that using rewards actually DECREASES the child’s interest in continuing that behavior.

So – what to do?

Here’s an idea: Instead of using external REWARDS – use ENCOURAGEMENT!

The difference? External rewards create a dependence on the reward for the child to continue the behavior.  As the parent, you’ll have to continually dangle the latest and greatest carrot to keep the good stuff going.

Encouragement motivates children from the “inside” and helps them feel capable and empowered.

Think conversations like:

Wow – you’re getting more independent every day!

You are really growing up and showing us how much you can do all by yourself.

I know you’ve worked on that and it shows!  

The research by Alfie Kohn and others show that conversations that focus on effort, improvement and progress towards a goal create and sustain INTERNAL motivation. Long-term growth. Real change.

As opposed to external REWARDS, which categorically show that when the reward goes away – so does the motivation for the behavior.

Part two of the question… 

“What about when the behavior becomes “expected” – is encouragement still required?”

The answer is “YES!!!!!!!”

Even when behaviors are “expected” or “routine” – everyone wants to feel appreciated and encouraged. Think of using statements such as:

I really appreciate how much you do to help the family.

When you do _____, that’s one job that I don’t have to do.

I love how we are all working together as a family.

There is magic in those words.

They provide the reinforcement your child needs to stick with those positive actions or behaviors.  But, they also contribute to his or her sense of personal power and connection within your family. 

Everyone wants to feel appreciated. Kids, partners, friends, family members – we all thrive on encouragement. Use it liberally. It is an extraordinary lesson to teach our children by example.

Ever struggle to get your kids to do their chores or homework without resorting to threats or bribes? 

Join Amy McCready for a FREE online class: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling

It will be the best hour you spend all month!

About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.
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