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Rewards as Motivators

Child expert offers advice on enouraging good behavior with bribes or rewards

We asked pediatrician, author, and grandfather of six T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., for his take on whether parents should offer rewards and bribes to encourage good behavior.

What do you say to parents about using rewards?
"I say don't do it. It isn't that it's so wrong. It's that it tends to narrow the goals you're setting up for your child. Offering rewards doesn't give children enough credit for wanting to do good things for their own reasons. They want to be helpful. They want to be like other people and fit in. The second you make it about getting that reward, you've taken away the opportunity for them to own it, for it to be their decision."

But isn't offering a reward to a child the same as offering a paycheck to an adult?
"It's exactly like that, and if you think paychecks are all we work for, then sure, you'll want to use rewards on your child. But if you think there's the satisfaction of a job well done, and learning, and growth, and altruism, then let these be your child's incentives."

And if a parent is encountering much resistance?
"When my kids were little, we had family meetings. Certain things need doing, so you talk about what we want to do versus what we need to do. You let your child know what things are important, you model these things, and you get out of the way. And then your child thinks, 'Gee, maybe it's worth doing what they asked. Maybe it's worth being like them.' It may take longer this way, but it's much more likely to stick."

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