Rewarding Good Behavior a Bad Thing?

Cynthia Dermody
19
rewarding positive behavior

Photo by LilStar9905

Something another mom said to her daughter in the locker room after swimming lessons really nauseated me. As I peeled the wetsuit off of my daughter, the 4 or 5 year old next to us asked her mother, "Mom, I listened really well in swim class today. Could I have a cookie?"

To which the mom replied, "No, honey, you know we don't reward for positive behavior. I will give you a treat when I feel that a treat is warranted."

I think I was more irked by the way she said it -- a little too loudly and deliberately, so all the other mothers absorbed the full impact of her enlightened parenting beliefs -- than what she was saying.

Of course, every mom should use the parenting style that they think works best with their kids. But I'm sorry ... a 4 year old actually knows the meaning of the term "positive reinforcement"?

At that moment, I was secretly hoping my own daughter would have asked me the same question so I could have said even more loudly, "Sure, sweetie, you can even have TWO cookies!"

Of course, this was a new one on me. I was curious as to why some psychologist out there feels that rewarding good behavior with baked goods is an dangerous thing, so I Googled it. This is what I found: A child should learn that the best rewards are innate or self-motivated, like the feeling of accomplishment, the approval of peers, or even weight loss or increased muscle strength for working hard at a sport.

Sure, I want my kid to get all those things, too, and I'm pretty sure she is, cookie or not. My daughter knows I'm not one of those moms who rewards or acknowledges for trifling efforts -- "Here's three dollars for going down the slide!" or "Way to go breathing that air!"

I think the mom in the locker room was too focused on the treat and missed what I thought was the best thing about the girl's request -- she actually realized she'd done good at a bona fide toddler challenge and pointed it out, politely and humbly. So what if she wanted a little extra acknowledgment -- isn't that what we're all told to do as adults when we march into the boss and tell him we deserve a raise?

Do you reward your child's positive behavior -- why or why not?

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