Wednesday, February 22, 2012

REWARDS: Good? Bad? Or maybe a little Gray?

Parenting question: I usually don't like to offer rewards. I agree with the belief that it can hardwire the child's brain, so every time they do something they expect a reward, instead of cultivating it intrinsically.

In adult life you don't get rewarded for everything you do. (Have you read Nurture Shock?)

However, I do reward at times, but try to use rewards sparingly and sneaky. Like, "oh I just remembered I have a treat in the car for you." Instead of, "if you come now into the car nicely, I will give you a treat." Let's face it, rewards are EASY.

It all gets so complicated in real life though. Especially the more you read about parenting philosophies. I find myself reacting on instinct and over analyzing my decisions.

For example, yesterday, for the first time ever, my son didn't want to go to his violin lesson. I mean, really really full on deep emotional reaction, which, if you know my son, is very unusual. We have been going for a year and have never had a problem. I think it is just because he wasn't feeling 100% after a week of sickness. Heck, I almost had the same reaction the day before not wanting to go teach yoga because I wasn't feeling on my game, but wasn't sick enough to cancel.

But such is life, we don't always feel our best when we need to "preform". We still wanted him to go so he could learn the lesson of commitment and doing something well even though he doesn't always want to do it.

I talked compassionately trying to advise and cajole with him for a good 15 to 20 minutes. The clock was ticking and he needed to start getting ready to get out the door. So I did it. I said it. I felt the moment called for a little love, and a little understanding and connection.

Early on in the process, I offered picking something special up for him, like a treat, he could look forward to when he come home. He didn't take the bait.

So, I thought about what I was saying to him: I need you to be brave and strong and go do something that  you really really don't want to do. And do it with an open heart so that you try your best when you are there.

And if you can do this, I will do something that I really REALLY don't want to do. Yes, I will do something I hate. 

I see him perk up a little. What could it be, he is thinking, and she said that bad word, hate.

Yes, I say, if you go to violin and try hard, then I will do something I hate, and I will do it with a smile... I will go to the mall with you tomorrow so you can play.... *shutter* games.

That got his interest. You see, it's been over three months, since his birthday to be precise, since we've made the dreaded trip to the mall.  My four-year-old son loves more than anything to go there to play video games (at four! It has started already!).

We pass the mall almost every time we are in the car, and I have the discussion regularly to my son about why I don't like going to the mall. It usually ends with, it's okay if you enjoy the mall. Just know that I don't like it.

So he knows this is big for me. And he is the type of kid that would get the connection, and I think appreciate it.

I struggle here though. Part of me thinks we should of just told him to pull himself together and just made him go. No rewards. Tough love. That way he doesn't expect a reward every time he doesn't want to do something -life lesson.

I feel like I am too soft and too quick to jump in to save - you know, the typical parent thing.

But then, I also hear what the "more conscious parenting" realm are saying, and what the Teach Through Love people are saying about fostering connection and love.

So I ask you, what do you think? Rewards good/bad/ or okay sometimes?

I had to leave my son at that point to go out (and he was balling again at that point), but his father managed to get him to pull it together in five minutes and he did an okay violin lesson. My mothing instincts tell me that if I didn't offer this opportunity for connection and reward, that he would of resisted and gone to the lesson sulky and not really learned anything.

Parenting is tough. It rarely is black or white. Sometimes parenting makes US do things we don't want to. I am now off to the mall with a little smile on my face - sort of.

Let me know your thoughts!


  1. There is so much in this post, and I thank you for honestly sharing it all! As my yoga teacher always said, perhaps two of the most wise words in answering any question,...

    "It Depends". :)

    ("enjoy" the mall!) :)

  2. Thanks Lisa. Oh, life is so complicated. Beautiful, but complicated :)

  3. THis is such an interesting question. I am sure I will be asking myself this as my little one grows. I do it now too. I dont have a high chair on which she could sit and eat (shes 7 months now, so she would sit and I would make her eat) and I am not so sold about the idea yet. In my culture, we usually let the kids run around, play, explore etc while we move with them and feed them. I do think a middle way is more useful but I am often wondering, what if I give in and end up running around her and feeding her so much so that she ends up having a relationship with food that is unmindful. Anyway, I often conclude that I am okay as I am right now. With a little sitting down to eat together and with a little running around her to feed her. All this to say, I think once in a while indulging in rewards is okay. The way I see it, we indulge ourselves in rewards too when we do something we dont like, but we dont do it always. So this isnt any different. Wouldnt you say? :-)