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  Home  > Child/Family Wellness  > Myth: Punishment and Praise Are Effective Ways to Raise Responsible Kids

Myth: Punishment and Praise Are Effective Ways to Raise Responsible Kids

Fact: Whether buying children's good behavior with money, treats, or privileges, and relying on praise to motivate behavior; or using punishments to get good kids, the goal is identical: "Do what you're told."

A controlling paradigm does not help children to act responsibly. The fact that rewards can be withheld for failure makes the whole experience seem punitive. Rewards diminish cooperative and generous attitudes and behaviors. Young children who were frequently praised for pro-social acts were less likely over time to engage in them than children who did not receive verbal reinforcement.

Again, if you want compliance, rewards work well. If your goal is to tap interest in doing quality work, or to encourage lifelong self-directed learners, or to help others grow into caring responsible, decent people, rewards actively interfere.

Alternatives to Rewards and Punishments

How do we get "good kids without goodies?" Popular advice focuses on coping with problems (which does little to help children grow into good people), and relies heavily on the use of punishments and rewards. Instead, we need to reframe the way we think about our relationships with children and move beyond a drive to control. This means dispensing with or minimizing reliance on rewards and punishments, and shifting from doing things to our children to doing things with them.

There are two fundamentally different ways to respond to a misdemeanor. One is with a punitive consequence. Another is to see the situation as a "teachable moment," an opportunity to educate or solve a problem together. An atmosphere of respect rather than coercion, a commitment to work with children on developing the capacity to behave well, a willingness to figure out what is wrong and fix it together - is the most effective way of resolving difficulties. While it may take a lot of patience to work through a problem (repeatedly in some cases), and the research and analysis concerning punishment can seem impossibly remote, and the urge to rely on rewards or punishments difficult to resist, we ought not and need not dispense with standards and goals, nor underestimate what we are capable of doing.

Ultimately the need to punish is predicated on the belief children "naturally" revel in antisocial behavior and desist only because they fear what will happen to them. Evidence says otherwise. While the desire for approval is nearly universal in children, adults tend to assume inappropriate behavior reflects malignant motives. If we recognize that the issue may be simply an absence of skills, we avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy that comes of assuming they are up to no good.



The "Three Cs" - Collaboration, Content, and Choice
Growing Responsible Proactive Kids

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