Skip to main content

What'll You Give Me?

Find me now at Lucid Renewal

Kids love stickers. Even my middle school students love stickers. I even kind of like stickers. I give them out to my middle schoolers occasionally because it is so fun watching them squeal and hearing each one say, “Where’s mine?” That being said, I hand out stickers for the same reason I give my own children hugs. It’s a tangible sign of “Hey, I notice you, and I appreciate you.” They don’t work well for motivation. I’m not sure at what age the transformation occurs. When does it go from a willingness to work for a sticker to an unwillingness to work for just about anything (unless intrinsically motivated)? To be effective, the rewards I would need to offer would require a constant flow with ever increasing payload, usually to the detriment of my pocketbook. Frankly, I use few tangible rewards in my classroom.

These observations dovetail into contemporary research on motivation. Alfie Kohn was one of the first to criticize the effectiveness of rewards. He showed instead that it works over the short term but does not change behavior over the long haul. More recently, Daniel H. Pink wrote about the limited effectiveness of monetary rewards to improve performance. He discusses a study conducted by prominent economists. The researchers paid participants in rural India to play various games that required physical as well as mental skills. They divided them into three levels of paid rewards. Those in the smallest and mid-size pay range performed the same. And the highest paid group? They performed worse than both the other groups. Tangible rewards simply don’t work the way we assume.

As a child, my mom would occasionally use rewards, but it usually backfired. I thought that if payment is a reward for an act, then the reverse is true. Don’t do it; don’t get paid. No remorse on my part. Needless to say, Mom seldom bothered. Instead chores were a part of being in a family.

And there’s the big key: family and relationships in general don’t work so well with a reward system. This idea had been rummaging around in my head for a while when I happened on a clinical psychologist’s article in The Atlantic earlier this week. According to Erica Reischer, “Whatever the system, reward economies promote a transactional model for good behavior: Children come to expect a reward for good behavior and are hesitant to ‘give it away for free.’ ” Tangible rewards create ‘tit for tat’ relationships. Reischer tells of one 8 year old boy who was asked to help his younger brother clean up a spill. The boy asked his mother, “What will you give me?”

Now, of course, at the end of the day, we all work for rewards. I go to work, so I can pay the bills. It’s also true that love and acceptance in a family is a type of reward, but that is a far cry from Skittles for good behavior or a sticker for cleaning the toilet. It’s also true that tangible reward systems work in limited settings. In fact, Reischer’s big complaint is that they work so well that you create kids who are always looking for payment. And if I’m trying to teach self-sacrifice, ‘turn the other cheek,’ and generosity to my children? I think I'll just keep giving those stickers out like hugs, no strings attached.


Popular posts from this blog

To Hear One More Laugh

Find me now atLucid Renewal
We buried my grandmother in July. The photo above is my last of her. I took it to show family members who needed to know she was feeling better on this particular day. These final weeks were spent in the hospital — well over a month of needles and meds and ups and downs. On this day, I happened to be up on the 3rd floor with her, and so my dad, ever her companion, took the chance to stretch his legs. On his return, he brought back coffee for each of us. Meema was so happy about it; nonetheless, I didn't put this photo in her slide show at the funeral. When someone has suffered a chronic illness like congenital heart disease, you don't want to show them at their worst. Now, after over a month, I don't know if it is her at her worst. Perhaps it is her best. The pain and the discomfort at the end made her so mad, and sometimes not like her usual self, but in this photo, her hair may be sticking out a bit, but I can see the beginnings of a smile as…

Interrupting the Shame Tape

Find me now at Lucid Renewal
As I almost hit that deer earlier this fall, my oldest son screamed from the back seat. It was a baby-like squeal similar to other sounds he makes. This is done for no articulated reason. I sense he is wishing to remain a child and cute in addition to trying to be funny.

Because he has a prefrontal cortex more closely resembling a cat than an adult human, he makes poor decisions about what is appropriate for his age and what might be humorous. The cuteness has dissolved into a blend of pre-adolescent awkwardness and obnoxiousness.

He has developed the habit of growling, hissing, cooing like a baby, or my favorite—doing all three at once. To say that it annoys me is to say that I need air to breathe. I am desperate for the day he finally stops, and I fear it will never come. And, no, I won’t miss it when it’s gone just like I still don’t miss the diaper stage or the tantrum stage.

Inappropriate Behavior All of this may explain, though not justify, why on that…

Please Just Don't Be a Serial Killer

Find me now at Lucid Renewal
I am a single mom. That sentence holds a lot of weight for me. I feel its heaviness, its sin and sadness and shame. However, I do not associate all of that loaded statement as a painful burden. Perhaps it is blind confidence or irrational optimism, but I feel my job, and the fact that I do it alone during 95% of my week, is monumental and heroic. It may be that egoism plays a part in the latter assessment.

Nonetheless, I will admit my heroism leans more toward the Iron Man or Dare Devil side of the spectrum. I can be a real jackass, and this is not conducive for parenting two boys, especially when you’re going solo. Every Tony Stark needs a Pepper Potts, but not everyone gets one.

Indeed, I am alone. There is no one there late at night to tell me to get over the pee on the bathroom floor because it’s normal my kids to take a leak everywhere but actually in the toilet. There is no hand on my side as I lie in bed crying and cussing about my child’s hurts and…