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January 24, 2015
Be Careful of Behavior Modification
Sandra is four years old. You can often hear her mom make statements like this. “Sandra, clean up your toys so you can have a snack.” “Finish getting dressed so you can go out and play.” Mom has learned that if she tells Sandra that she’ll get a reward, then Sandra is more likely to do the task. The problem is that Mom is appealing to Sandra’s selfishness in order to get things done.
It may be easy to get a preschooler to do what you want by giving some kind of reward but as she gets older you have to increase the value of the reward to get the same response. You can motivate a preschooler with a quarter, but you’ll need a dollar by the time she’s seven, and five dollars by the time she’s ten, and you’ll be paying her $20 at thirteen. If you continue to use the same system, by the time she’s in high school you’ll have to promise her a car to get her to graduate.
The reason is clear. Behavior Modification requires that you give a reward that’s greater than the desire to do something different. You’re simply creating an incentive that motivates kids to do something they’d rather not do because of something that they want instead. Behavior Modification works because it appeals to the selfishness in a child’s heart. But, unfortunately, kids grow up asking the wrong questions, “What’s in it for me?” “Are you going to pay me for this?”
Check your words. If you tend to overemphasize rewards and punishment in your parenting, you might want to make a change. Kids need to learn that we do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do, not just to get a reward.
For ideas on developing internal motivation in kids, and helping them choose to do what’s right for the right reason, consider our newest book Motivate Your Child, A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told by Dr Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.