Rewarding Your Kids Breeds Entitlement


As a parent, I have always taken a more “old school” approach compared to some of my peers. I don’t worry too hard about “damaging their spirits” when I discipline them, I don’t helicopter over them and feel the need to constantly micro-manage their play. I also don’t give in to 95% of their petty demands and I often put myself and my needs before them, when reasonable. In short, my kids definitely do not run the show and my feeling no need to shower them with gifts and rewards for every little accomplishment is part of that. I deeply believe that in the long run, rewarding your kids breeds entitlement and does them no favors.

A recent post on iVillage reiterates what I’ve always felt- that rewarding children does not mean they will continue that good behavior forever- it just means they will only do it because they expect a reward. Remove the reward, the good behavior ends. The writer of this post is a teacher who believed that rewarding her students was the best way to get them to do the right thing but a passage she cites from Gentle Parenting says otherwise and I happen to agree:

”Rewards such as stickers work by increasing the extrinsic (that is the external) motivation of children. Simply you reward the behaviour you want and ignore that that you don’t. Classical conditioning tells us that this should result in more of the positive behaviour. The major flaw here is that no real change has taken place in the child’s beliefs and personal drives. They are only motivated to behave in a certain way because of the reward on offer, remove the reward and the desired behaviour disappears.”

This makes me feel pretty good about my parenting because that is how I’ve always operated. When they were little, I would not offer a reward for behaving at Target because I did not want to have to produce a reward every single time they behaved at Target. They needed to simply learn that good behavior would ALWAYS be expected in public because that is what we as humans are supposed to do- not because they expect a reward in the end. I don’t reward them for eating dinner because eating is not something worthy of praise- it is just something they should be doing. And I do not reward for every single good grade because again, it is expected.

I am not a complete tyrant- I try to save any rewarding I do for the bigger things. My daughter finished first grade this past June with a perfect report card and wonderful comments from her teacher. To me, this was worthy of recognition so that she will remember for the coming school year that her hard work over the long-term was rewarded. We took her to Panera Bread (her fave) and out for ice cream and she was thrilled- she is still talking about it. I truly believe that if we were rewarding every little thing this way then it would not mean nearly as much.

As we begin another school year this week, we will have two kids in elementary school and I may change my tune on the rewards situation. We have to adjust as parents for each child and my son is not nearly as easy-going and may require a bit more encouragement. I am always the first to admit when I’m wrong or when my strongly held beliefs might need reexamining. For now, I am happy to play the Bad Cop and be sure that my kids know they have to do a lot more than spell ten words correctly to get a trip to the toy store but I am open to changing my mind if I need to. I guess as parents, it’s always trial and error. We shall see what the new school year brings.

(Image:  Ilya Andriyanov/Shutterstock)

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