At one time or other, most parents have offered a reward to their child to motivate them towards a certain behavior. Whether it was a one time deal (“Once you pick up your toys, you can have a cookie.”) or a longer term plan (“Once you fill in this sticker chart, you can choose a toy from the prize box.”), rewards are par for the parenting course.
Do a quick search on Pinterest for “Reward System” and you’ll discover thousands of results. Charts, jars, boxes, cards; when it comes to rewarding a child’s behavior, the sky’s the limit!
How to Foster Good Learning Habits in Children
But is it in the best interest of your children to reward them?
Experts have mixed opinions.
Some say that rewarding behavior is a great way to help children form new habits. Others insist that rewarding behavior doesn’t allow children to develop intrinsic motivation and hinders the development of their sense of responsibility. (source)
As is often the case when faced with determining the best course of action for your children, the topic of rewards should not be looked at in a ‘one size fits all’ way. Every child is different, and while a reward system might be effective for one child without damaging their intrinsic motivation, it may have the opposite effect on another child.
Similarly, an ‘all or nothing’ approach may not be the best method to use either. In a perfect world, a child will develop intrinsic motivation for every task and behavior, but it’s naive to think that will truly be the case. (Consider the tasks you do as an adult that you only get through because you promise yourself a small treat when you’re finished.)
So what is the best way to proceed?
Although the ultimate goal should always be to help our children develop intrinsic motivation, each situation may require it’s own unique set of ‘rules.’
For instance, your art-loving child may be intrinsically motivated to complete a homework assignment that requires him to create a poster because he finds it to be an enjoyable task with a desirable outcome.
However, the same child may have a difficult time finding any intrinsic value in completing a math assignment full of word problems. While your ultimate goal should be to help him develop that intrinsic motivation (perhaps by helping him understand the real world applications and how they apply to him specifically), in the shorter term, it may be helpful to employ a reward system.
There is one thing that experts on both sides of the issue agree on:
Teaching children how to set goals is an important part of their motivational development.
Continuing the above example, when your child has learned how to set goals, he may decide to create a goal centered around improving his mathematical skills. While math itself may not be intrinsically motivating to him, achieving a goal will be.
How can you teach your children how to set and accomplish goals? The following articles will help:
5 Tips for Teaching Kids How to Set Goals :: Scholastic Choices
How to Teach Kids Perseverance and Goal-Setting :: Parents
How to Help Your Child Set and Reach Goals :: PBS.org
For further reading on intrinsic motivation:
A New Kind of Reward Increases Intrinsic Motivation :: Psychology Today
Teach Your Child to Love Learning: Keys to Kids’ Motivation :: PBS.org
Strategies to Build Intrinsic Motivation :: Edutopia
Finding what works for each of your children in regards to helping them form good learning habits can take time and patience, but the ‘rewards’ are worth the sacrifice.