punished by rewards

(49 Posts)
prumarth Fri 14-Feb-14 19:45:38

I was recommended a book from a very experienced educational psychologist called Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn. It discusses the psychology of rewarding children through offering rewards like treats or stars for inducing a desired behaviour. His research basically demonstrates that offering incentives to behave in a certain way (such as sticker system for good behaviour or for achieving a desired outcome) is actually counter productive and can lead children to under performing in desired behaviour over time. The theory (in my clumsy interpretation) is that dangling rewards doesn't change the core behaviour and experiments have shown that children offered rewards for tasks on later occasions actually show disengagement from the task versus children who were encouraged to find intrinsic value in the task itself.
He believes that rewards and punishments are two sides to the same coin.
Similarly, he believes praising children for things has a negative impact on children's esteem - so don't say "you're an amazing artist" when they draw a picture but say something like "the mountains in that picture are very tall - what gave you the interesting idea to draw that" for example.

Some of the above has resonance with some things I have read about children with trauma - e.g. that using visual "good behaviour" charts in schools can lead to them being demotivated and sometimes disruptive. Also that low self worth can react badly to effusive praise which can be deemed as empty words or even that the parent doesn't see the real "bad" them and causes anxiety.

So, my question is this:-
- do you agree / disagree with the principle that rewards are only temporarily productive but don't change core behaviours
- ditto to praise
- what techniques would you utilise to encourage a certain behaviour if not through rewards or incentives
- does your school use reward systems and have they been beneficial or detrimental to your child

Apologies if I have butchered the research description - typing on a kindle isn't ideal!

lijaco Fri 14-Feb-14 19:51:15

For my children rewards don't work they just not interested. These studies are usually carried out by people that don't have any kids.

Buster51 Fri 14-Feb-14 19:55:59

Hi there Pru, what an interesting post! I use reward charts at home with DS, to try & channel his behaviour (esoecially of the controlling kind) into a positive. His school also do.

Like your post states this did seem to work for a few month, but I think he has really completely lost interest. Although it has resolved some of the things he was doing - it hasn't to the root cause (I doubt) as he still feels the need to control situations, even as simple as not answering a question/ignoring me/others.

That being said he seems to constantly crave praise from me, so I am unsure with regards to that part "I'm a good boy aren't I mummy" etc, and he does still ask about his stars if I'm late putting the chart up for example (creature of habit).

I am very interested in hearing others views on this smile

atthestrokeoftwelve Fri 14-Feb-14 20:09:07

Totally agree, I have used this philosophy with my children. They have never been punished or rewarded for behaviour.

MyFeetAreCold Fri 14-Feb-14 20:10:23

Hello
I'm posting really to see what others say too.

Rewards don't work at all in this house. We just get a 'well, I don't want an x anyway'.

Consequences are treated exactly the same. 'Okay, I won't have a y then.'

We have some success with pointing out the actual value of doing something (the house gets clean, she'll grow tall etc) but none whatsoever when she knows it's an arbitrary reward/consequence we've made up.

audley Fri 14-Feb-14 20:26:24

I have read some of his book and yes I agree with what he says and I have found his joint problem solving technique works very well but my goodness it is hard having to manage my own state.sometimes I just wish my boys would just jump to it like I used to! but I am sure it is worth the effort and it is its own rewards watching my boys take an active part in resolving issues.
Need to finish the book to see if there are any other practical suggestions to be found.I am finding the book a bit long winded.

atthestrokeoftwelve Fri 14-Feb-14 20:40:45

I have found this approach works well using positive parenting techniques.
I waste no time in communicating to my children how their actions have had a positive impact.

So if my child has helped me with the shopping I will let him know how great it is to get the shopping done in half the time, how I noticed how thoughtful he was by putting the eggs on the top, and that immediately he put the frozen things in the freezer when we got home.
He sees himself as a responsible family member, someone who is organised and thoughtful. He also is aware that his actions lift the mood of others and make them happy, seeing a less stressed Mum who is happy to make us hot chocolate and play a game of cards because of the time saved.

I was brought up in the same way- although that was in the 1960s. Not as a result of any psychologist or child expert, but that's how things are in my family too- I was never punished or rewarded as a child.
I do remember wanting to contribute a great deal to the running of the house when I was a child. I would line up everone's shoes on a Sunday evening and polish them with wax polish and brushes, spending ages shining them up.
My reward was they way I felt,- I saw my father smile at me as he put on his shoes on a Monday morning- and I knew I had made a difference.
Giving me a star or a sticker- or worse money would have lessened the pride I had in myself at a job well done.

Buster51 Sat 15-Feb-14 07:49:13

So in order to apply this practically daily, without stars, could anyone guide me in the right direction? (Apologise I am very new to this).

Take for example one of DSs stars is listening, this is primarily an element of his controlling behaviour where he choses to not listen / shut down / ignore others around him what appears randomly.

How could this be applied practically without the reward he recievs from his star when he achieves it?

atthestrokeoftwelve Sat 15-Feb-14 07:54:45

What do you mean by "not listening" is he noisy and distracted and won't focus- or does he choose to ignore what you say?

"Listening" is not a one way process. Listening is one part of a two way communication. For the process to be effective both parties need to have an open line of dialogue.
Can you give an example?

KristinaM Sat 15-Feb-14 07:56:27

I think that in general stat charts don't work with adopted children.

After all, they have already suffered one the worst punishments possible -losing their parents. And they probably did nothing wrong. That's how logical life is for them

So why would they care about losing a tv programme or even a paper star? There is no punishment you can think of that is worst than they have survived already .

Paintyfingers Sat 15-Feb-14 08:02:10

I don't have adopted dc, but don't use star charts as I don't like them. I try to do so called positive parenting like a pp.

Buster, do you mean you ask him to do something and he ignores you? I might say something like this if DS did do what I asked:

"Thanks very much ds, it was really helpful of you to set the table with me - made it much quicker! It was great that you did it straight away too."

lljkk Sat 15-Feb-14 08:11:51

I can't comment on the Adoption context. Obviously some kids might need different rules from the majority. And it's always worth experimenting a bit to see if you can improve things.
MNers usually discuss the successor book, Unconditional Parenting, which I quite loathe (yes I have read it & still have a copy).
I would like to read an academic criticism that draws on all the contrary research to arrive at a balanced conclusion of evidence (behaviourism, etc.). I think Kohn's problem is probably that he's trying to push very simple unequivocal purist messages but really parenting has to be quite a nuanced issue. This leads to people online tying themselves up in knots about bizarre situations.

Kohn's thesis is that kids who aren't praised or punished somehow derive their own internal enjoyment which is longer lasting, so they are move self-motiviated in general and have better self esteem (he argues). I wonder if internal motivation is harder to tap into for kids who come out of neglect/abuse backgrounds, could anyone comment?

prumarth Sat 15-Feb-14 08:14:12

Hi all, thanks so much to everyone for their thoughts. Like buster, I'm keen also to learn of other techniques other than a reward system that works for you.
atthestroke, the example you gave on reinforcing the positive output of the good behaviour rather than praising the child directly sounds very aligned with the examples in the book and its great to hear a practical example.
audley I'm still ploughing through the book too! Really interesting but hard going at times to get through all the cross referencing of the evidence to support the theory. I'm hoping the later sections will give ideas on how to implement.
myfeetarecold - your sons response to rewards / consequences are pretty much how the book describes the longer-term impact - that the child starts to negotiate or dismiss them and focus on them rather than the actual behaviour you are trying to promote.
lijaco I don't know if the author has kids but the person who recommended it to me does and she works in education with very deprived children so lots of experience.

MyFeetAreCold Sat 15-Feb-14 08:46:05

There's one of the oft-cited attachment books that talks about star charts in an adoptive context, which iirc, essentially said they don't work, and again iirc I think it was because an adoptive DC will know exactly how to manipulate it.

I think the book was Dan Hughes' Building the Binds of Attachment but it doesn't have a %*^#}{ index so I can't find it. If anyone can point me at what I'm talking about I'd appreciate it as I def need a reread now I have an actual child to apply it to!

Buster51 Sat 15-Feb-14 08:57:17

Sorry I wasn't very clear, no distractions. He just shuts down / people out. It has became less of a problem since his placement with us as it was something he did daily in FC. It can be just one person in a whole room of people or just answering a question (almost like knowing we want the answer so withholding it)

I hope that makes a bit more sense?!

LumpySpacePrincessOhMyGlob Sat 15-Feb-14 09:14:58

I agree with this, I've never used reward charts or naughty steps etc. We have always tried to work through problems together. I also acknowledge when I haven't behaved as I should so dc can see that they don't have to be perfect.

I do believe in consequences, but they occur naturally.

I'm just lazy I guess. grin

Hels20 Sat 15-Feb-14 09:58:19

Such an interesting thread. I have a 2.8 year old and we are trying to potty train him with incentive for rewards...and it does seem to be working. But potty training isn't really about behaviour. But you have me thinking that maybe I am going about it the wrong way! I also give him a chocolate button to get him to take the vitamins (liquid form). Am I doing it all wrong?!!

FamiliesShareGerms Sat 15-Feb-14 12:21:55

Rewards works with DS; totally pointless with DD. One if these things where we don't know if it's to do with their different personalities or - so far as this can be separated out - a difference between birth and adopted children.

trampstamp Sat 15-Feb-14 17:48:56

It's not about using rewards as such but it's about the right rewards
Children are use Ike adult they to work for reward however just Like each each adult we all work for something different

Some children will work for praise alone just the fact there parents will be happy be enough
Some young people will work for stars and stickers
Some for elevated position hall monitor, class prefect
Some will work for money

I suggest a book call freakanomics I the us they carried out a study on truants and poorly behaved children and started paying them with in few weeks the behaviour completely turned around

prumarth Personally, I think different things work with different kids. As others have said! But I typed that last night and could not get it to post! As these threads are often people who have a child who joined the family by adoption I would say parenting styles will vary and will be more on the 'attachment' style of parenting (not necessary adoption attachment but attachment parenting style for anyone or as is sometimes called positive parenting).

I personally feel children can learn from rewards and consequences.

In theory children learn that life has rewards and consequences! Sadly, for many people being good in life does not always get the reward one would hope for and being 'bad' does not always have a bad consequence, but in ideal world things would be fairer!

I personally think some rewards can change the core behaviour in that it can be an incentive, if you do this a different way you get this; if you like it is a kind of bonus scheme. It worked for us for big areas like getting our daughter to stay in her own bed, she got a sticker whenever she did and then a cinema trip one the page was full of stickers. I think the habit of staying in her bed to try and get the stickers changed how she behaved and eventually it became habit. Our DD did not join our family through adoption so I am not sure how well these things would work with a child who did join our family through adoption.

What we did differently to most reward charts, on the advice of the Family Links Nurturing course, which is the course that goes with the Parenting Puzzle book, is that we had a starry sky or rather a black piece of paper and she got a gold star each time. She got to choose where it got stuck on, and so there was no sense of failing one day because a box was not checked or ticked or stickered. We also tried having starry skies for us as parents and she got to award us stars for good things. She liked this at first but quickly bored of it! Don’t think I ever got my actual reward treat!

Whether she would have come around to that behaviour or not, I don't know. I think maybe she made the effort to stay in her own bed for the reward or incentive and then found that it became a habit, for her (and for us) a good habit. We did something similar with toilet training.

Yes, I also believe that rewards and punishments are two sides to the same coin; we might call that coin carrot and stick.

I think when you say .. he believes praising children for things has a negative impact on children's esteem - so don't say "you're an amazing artist" when they draw a picture but say something like "the mountains in that picture are very tall - what gave you the interesting idea to draw that" for example." Really that is still praising a child but in a more meaningful way, you are pointing out what you like about their picture, it is really praise but it is probably a much better way as children can't quite so easily discount your opinion....

E.G. 'I love your picture.' Children can think 'so what, I don't care what you think'
Or 'It's very good.' Child could think 'yes but how is it good?'
Where as...'...the mountains in that picture are very tall - what gave you the interesting idea to draw that" for example.'
Gives a child something to work with... and something to think about and answer rather than just receive praise.

I agree that vague praise like 'good boy' or 'good girl' could be unhelpful, what did they do to get that praise! It could be confusing. With some children you may need to be really clear about what is good, or what is unhelpful behaviour etc.

Yes, I agree that charts etc could lead to children being de-motivated and sometimes disruptive. I think if you are judging all children by the same yard stick it can lead to children being very, very unhappy! But having said this appropriate encouragement for children would be helpful.

The best encouragement of all is the way that some children can learn to do things which are positive for themselves and others and get pleasure from that, and if they are always getting rewards and incentives for everything it could 'kill off' the child's ability to recognise the genuine feel good factor of doing something good for themselves or others.

So, your questions-
- do you agree / disagree with the principle that rewards are only temporarily productive but don't change core behaviours - Not necessarily but I do think try and use them sparingly, and make rewards things which are quite affirming in themselves like active treats (going out and doing something together, maybe things that cost money like going swimming or cinema or time at the park, extra time at the park etc) so they really are a reward). Never food (chocs and sweets as rewards - bad bad move - NEVER IMHO!
praise - praise is good, but it needs to be true (not made up), realistic, and ideally tangible stuff they can relate to (IMHO)
- what techniques would you utilise to encourage a certain behaviour if not through rewards or incentives
I am all ears!
- does your school use reward systems and have they been beneficial or detrimental to your child
Marble treat jar and a party once it is full, DD is very happy when this happens BUT personally for me as a child I was the kid who lost points for the team from spelling and I hated it! As much as possible I think positive ways of finding progress and good in all children is better than some vague points for all. I also feel children should never lose points for their team or group and there should be no set up that failing to get points = losing points.

I must emphasise these answers are as someone who has not yet adopted. My replies may be different in a year or two!

OOpse, long reply! Soory.

Swanhildapirouetting Sat 15-Feb-14 20:04:12

I think some rewards lead to good habits. Like chocolate buttons when you are potty training. Then you dispense with the buttons and they still have the habit.

But most of the time, rewards and consequences in our house in the form of star charts or good boy, do not improve behaviour. What improves behaviour is not carrot and stick but getting the child on your side.

I think when you observe older people who are very good with children or even young teenagers who instinctively get on with children or animals, they don't use rewards or punishments. They just talk, deal with them in a way that wins the child's confidence, and makes it easier for the child to feel good about themselves and do the things that we perceive as "good" behaviour. Those people don't have star charts they have ways of showing interest and involvement that children respond to.

How To Talk So Kids will Listen is a variant of the Kohn book. It also talks about descriptive praise, which is what Greyhound mentioned.

Praise can make children feel overwhelmed and belittled. Even The Contented Little Baby Book has a section on how to give a child self esteem by using descriptive praise.
Children like to feel they are important and involved far more than they want a sticker. So "Thank you for helping me tidy up, I was running out of time and you put that train away and it saved us so much time" is a positive intervention that works better than offering them a sticker to tidy up.

But as another poster said, there is so much nuance and positive feedback in getting along with someone, anyone, that you cannot reduce it down to prescriptive statements of you do this, then this, because there is always a before that and a before that, and a what if he hits me, or is about to run into the road, set alight to the cat, what then..????? Every day things can go wrong, you lose your temper, they lose their temper, but if you keep remembering is what you want is for them not to behave but to have SELFESTEEM, it puts a different slant on how you manage their behaviour.

namechangeobv Sat 15-Feb-14 20:14:43

I love Alfie and we parent in this way - trying to be actively engaged in our child's inner life rather than manipulating her behaviour through meaningless 'good girl' parroting all day long.

But once you become aware of how much of that very conditional shit there is around for kids at the moment I think it's quite mindbending; 'good girl' and 'good boy' for bloody everything. I mean an 18 month old doing a shit isn't making a moral choice as far as I can see. Eating broccoli to please someone else is only 'good' in a particularly skewed sense of the word...

cosmos239 Sat 15-Feb-14 22:34:35

Sorry if this had been said already but my understanding of why star charts / rewards / consequences don't work with some adopted children is that they require the child to have an understanding of cause and effect in order to work. Babies learn the principle of cause and effect from their primary carers, usually birth Mum or dad. I.e if I cry... Then my Mum will come, if I move my face this way Mum smiles at me, if I make this funny noise my dad smiles/ talks to me etc.

Where children are neglected and don't receive these interactions or where the parental reaction is not predictable and consistent I.e where parents are at times under the influence of drugs / alcohol or have mental health issues, or learning disabilities that mean they can't react appropriately to a babies attempts to communicate... this awareness that a leads to b doesn't happen. The majority of children adopted in the UK come from these types of backgrounds. Therefore these children are missing a key developmental building block, any form I of discipline involving the word 'if' makes no sense to them they don't really think it will definitely happen. I.e if you tidy your room them you can get a treat, if you punch your brother again he.'ll not want to play with you.

Children who lack this cause and effect need intervention to get this in place before rewards or sanctions will work. In this way it is quite different to disciplining a child who has had typical development.

cosmos239 Sat 15-Feb-14 22:35:17

Sorry if this had been said already but my understanding of why star charts / rewards / consequences don't work with some adopted children is that they require the child to have an understanding of cause and effect in order to work. Babies learn the principle of cause and effect from their primary carers, usually birth Mum or dad. I.e if I cry... Then my Mum will come, if I move my face this way Mum smiles at me, if I make this funny noise my dad smiles/ talks to me etc.

Where children are neglected and don't receive these interactions or where the parental reaction is not predictable and consistent I.e where parents are at times under the influence of drugs / alcohol or have mental health issues, or learning disabilities that mean they can't react appropriately to a babies attempts to communicate... this awareness that a leads to b doesn't happen. The majority of children adopted in the UK come from these types of backgrounds. Therefore these children are missing a key developmental building block, any form I of discipline involving the word 'if' makes no sense to them they don't really think it will definitely happen. I.e if you tidy your room them you can get a treat, if you punch your brother again he.'ll not want to play with you.

Children who lack this cause and effect need intervention to get this in place before rewards or sanctions will work. In this way it is quite different to disciplining a child who has had typical development.

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