General Question

nebule's avatar

Are children only motivated by reward and punishment?

Asked by nebule (16446points) July 20th, 2009

Have you managed to find a way to discipline your child without using these two opposites?

I’m not sure how you can motivate a child to become a “good” person without using one of these two or both?
If you take them away what other devices are left?

Does it have to come down to good and evil? Or can we find a better way?

Or do you not believe in discipline at all and let your child do what they want?

NB: I don’t really want this to turn into a spanking debate… I’d like to focus more on the philosophy of the problem itself…thanks

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31 Answers

CMaz's avatar

We are all motivated by reward and punishment.

Some are just greater or harsher then others.

That’s life.

Jack79's avatar

Actually most educators and psychologists believe punishment doesn’t really work. It makes sense that it should, but it doesn’t. Reward does. Unless of course by “punishment” you mean lack of reward. Punishment can have the adverse effect of making a child stubborn and violent, rather than realise the mistake and not repeat it.

What I have used as punishment for my daughter is trying to show her the result of her actions. For example, if she won’t share her toys, she has to spend time alone in her room, because this is what will happen to her later in life-she won’t have friends. I try to explain this to her (mind you she’s older than Theo) and show her the feeling. She hates being alone, so 2–3 mins can do the trick. Similarly, I promise her a reward for specific behaviour and always deliver. I am very consistent and always keep promises and tell her the truth about everything, which is something she likes as it offers her stability.

A thing you should never forget is to constantly show your love and express it in every way possible. Just because you are disappointed that your kid broke a vase, or even angry if they did something dangerous, it doesn’t mean you don’t love them. And they have to be very clear about that and understand that you are motivated purely by love and have their best interest in mind.

Oh and btw I’ve never once spanked my daughter and she behaves like a well-trained soldier around me. Her mother beats her up on a daily basis, burns her with cigarettes and has even chased her with a kitchen knife and guess what? She cries the whole time when they are together and screams and hits her back.

CMaz's avatar

“Unless of course by “punishment” you mean lack of reward.”
Do we need to be politically correct?
Lack of reward is punishment. You might not like the harshness of how it sounds, but it still is what it is.

robmandu's avatar

I’d say they’re also motivated by their own selfish desires… to the point sometimes where no reward or punishment is sufficient. Like any of us.

casheroo's avatar

I believe so.
My punishment for my son is timeouts, not spanking but it is still a punishment. He is taken away from the situation, and put into his bedroom for two minutes (his age) he usually comes out much happier and forgetting the bad thing he had done, and he does not repeat it. We also do this for tantrums, which have lessened significantly since we started doing timeouts.
Reward wise, sometimes we use cookies but we really don’t even have to because just praising him and clapping is all he needs. He now gets excited to even sit on the potty…which I think is due in part to me getting so excited that he is no longer afraid of the toilet!
But, like @ChazMaz “some are just greater or harsher than others.” I feel my punishment may seem less harsh that spanking, but it is still a punishment for poor behavior, which a child will associate with that bad behavior..which is what you want.
You can be stern and still loving.

Jack79's avatar

@ChazMaz I’m not being PR, I think by “punishment” lynne actually meant spanking. I am not against spanking on any moral grounds, but I have simply seen it doesn’t work. I’ve been around children for decades, both as a teacher and uncle (and eventually as a dad and babysitter) and have always been interested in how they grow up. And I’ve also seen how some of them turned out 10 or 20 years later. So in my experience it simply doesn’t work. And there’s been hundreds of books starting with Plutarch’s “On the Education of Young Men” more than 2000 years ago…all eventually point to the same conclusion. Our common sense is inaccurate.

nebule's avatar

By Punishment… I meant…anything that disgruntles the child in anyway…be that… time-outs, spanking, taking away toys, no sweets, etc.

I guess I’m thinking more… what about an indifferent parent? one who doesn’t reward or punish… I@m assuming this would have MAJOR detrimental affects on the child… but is there anything in-between reward and punishment that would not have a negative effect. Is that the only thing we have to work with?

CMaz's avatar

This can become a very philosophical discussion. Basically there is no right or wrong. There is no perfect way of doing things. Life in general causes some to succeed and others to fail.
We have just become a softer world.
For me and my bringing up, I was never “really” spanked. My parents instilled on us from birth as to what was to be expected. You did not want my Dad coming after us with the belt. Funny thing, he never had to. The attitude that was given about what would happen if you got into trouble was strong enough to keep us, for the most part out of trouble.

gailcalled's avatar

My late brother tried to toilet train an anonymous nephew of mine. Nephew and bro stood at toilet; nephew gave a small squirt; bro gave nephew an M & M, nephew gave another squirt; bro gave another M & M.

At some point, my brother realized who was being trained, and it wasn’t his son. A story he and I laughed over.

Dog's avatar

No they are not only motivated by reward. One of our daughters will secretly do things around the house to surprise us. She does not ask for a reward and seems to take delight in taking control of her enviornment.

robmandu's avatar

@Dog, perhaps Surprising You == Reward?

ShanEnri's avatar

Children can learn by example. However,the reward and punishment method helps too.

SuperMouse's avatar

I heard the author of this book speak once and what he had to say made a lot of sense to me. In theory it is great stuff, but in practice it is much harder.

My main method of discipline is logical consequences. Argue over a toy – the toy goes away. Refuse to put your shoes on – go out in your bare feet. Leave your Nintendo DS on the ground – it becomes mine for the day. But I guess when it comes down to it, that is just punishment dressed up in a fancy suit.

gailcalled's avatar

@All: PS. My brother has three sons so I am not pointing the finger at any one son in particular, lest you jump to conclusions.

mattbrowne's avatar

No. Arouse their curiosity and they will be motivated. No extra reward is required.

ubersiren's avatar

This is kind of loaded because no matter how selfless one is, he’s still rewarded in some way. Seeing someone else be happy is a reward. Anything can be a reward or punishment if you look at it that way.

My son used to grab fists full of our cat’s fur and yank it. Luckily she’s a laid back cat and let him do it most of the time. She only swatted at him once. He was only 1 and didn’t really know how to “pet” an animal. Over time, we’ve taught him how to pet properly. We didn’t really punish him because he just didn’t know what he was doing. He wasn’t really rewarded either, unless you count encouragement and approval. I would say his motivation was to fit in with what the rest of the family was doing. I guess you could call that a reward.

I say humans’ biggest motivation is to survive, even from childhood. That means getting approval from your family/ community/ school, etc. Sometimes we confuse approval with having the most toys (rewards).

aprilsimnel's avatar

“She cries the whole time when they are together and screams and hits her back.”

Recently, I’ve truly watched small children at play. I see their helplessness and innocence. I see that they take the world at face value. When I think of myself at 0–7, knowing I was treated in the same ways and reacted the same as your daughter with her mother, @Jack79, I wince at the horror of it. Small children DO NOT understand “punishment” as commonly defined. I know I didn’t.

I thought when I was whipped or struck or burnt that it was because the person doing it hated me and wanted to hurt me. I took my treatment at face value. Parents must rethink how they teach children to behave. The old-fashioned rules no longer apply, as if they ever did.

sakura's avatar

“Children Learn What They Live”
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

nebule's avatar

@Dog How old is your daughter? and how have you disciplined her?

When she surprises you..what kind of things does she do?

@mattbrowne very interesting… do you have children? – just interested… and do you think that ultimately then this curiosity is a quest for knowledge? and then does that lead to power?..and would that be defined as reward? Or are we overcomplicating the beautiful nature of innocent childhood?

Dog's avatar

@lynneblundell We have four daughters. The daughter I was referring to sometimes will have temper issues and requires a time out to settle down but that is rare. She will sometimes make her bed or my bed or do her chores without asking. Her sisters require considerable effort to keep on track with chores in comparison. Each has their own personality and each responds differently to reward. What they all respond to best is structure. A chore chart with starts and an end of the week reward.

All kids are different- that is what works in our home with our kids.

janbb's avatar

@gailcalled You reminded me of when we tried to use a chart for chores for our older son with a reward system at the end of the week. He looked at it and said, “I don’t want to do that, because soon you’ll be expecting me to do those chores with no reward.” And look where your “anonymous” nephew and my son ended up!

I like to think that I usually discussed choices with my sons and made appropriate “deals” with them, i.e., get dressed quickly when we’re leaving the pool and we can stop for ice cream, but I know at times I was too angry and impatient with them. I’ve tried to own up to my own “stuff” (I can’t use that word now without quotation marks!) but I know I made plenty of errors.

nebule's avatar

@SuperMouse Have you read the book? It sounds promising indeed!

gailcalled's avatar

@janbb: To be honest, I am not sure which son my brother was talking about. All three of them are creative, brilliant, adorable and kind (and presumably, now toilet-trained.)

I will probably see all of them in early August and will ask if any of them remembers that episode.

YARNLADY's avatar

I use ‘distraction’ very heavily. Like @mattbrowne says, using curiosity to motivate them really works. The best example is when he is going after something I don’t want him to touch, I say “Where is your basket ball?” When he is trying to sneak out the door, I say “Come help me with the dishes”, and he comes running into the kitchen. Notice, I don’t say NO at all. It isn’t necessary.

It is also possible for children to raise themselves. My Aunt used to live next door to a couple that worked at a restaurant, and they left their child home alone all day. He literally raised himself, and turned out OK. I wouldn’t recommend that.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

One of the best parenting books I ever read was Megaskills by Dorothy Rich. It focused on exercises to build character.

Jack79's avatar

@YARNLADY I actually raised myself in that way. And my sister. It made me very independent and strong, and also quite responsible. I learned to cook when I was 12 because we’d starve otherwise, and always tidied my room for the simple reason that I wouldn’t be able to find my stuff if I didn’t. As a dad, I try to allow my daughter to explore the world around her, just watching from a distance in case she does something dangerous. And of course spend time explaining things if that’s what she wants.

mattbrowne's avatar

@lynneblundell – Yes, I do. Twins actually. Today is their 20th birthday. The question was about ‘only’. Of course there are a few serious issues (especially when kids are younger) which may have consequences including punishment, but this should be the exception. Likewise for a few special rewards. Overall both can be counterproductive. I don’t believe in paying extra money for every A at school for example.

The ultimate motivating factor is curiosity and there’s a neurobiological reason. The ‘reward’ is the release of neurotransmitters and hormones which make the children (and adults by the way) feel good about themselves. Curiosity is linked to the quality of learning. The brain also rewards learning in general. A lot of kids are bored by math, because they can’t see the value. Some teachers should spend more time pointing out the connection to real life instead of repeating exercises too often.

One reason why Fluther is so popular is people’s curiosity about the questions and comments.

maryleedy's avatar

I usually change it up between taking toys away, time out on the bench, distraction (my favorite), and logical outcomes they can choose which one they don’t want. The change up catches them off guard and because it is different they tend to listen a little bit more than straight yelling for 10 minutes. I tend to pick my battles too, if I can’t think of a better way to get them to understand, then I let it go. But if it’s something that they will repeat again later in life, then I deal with it the first time it happens.

Joybird's avatar

I believe you are asking both about the basics of training behavior as well as about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. See the explanations for the latter gleemed from Wikepedia below.
But there is also a great book I would like to recommend to you so that you can better understand the process of shaping behavior and how to apply this to your home. The book is “Don’t shoot the dog” by Karen Pryor.

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Intrinsic motivation has been studied by social and educational psychologists since the early 1970s. Research has found that it is usually associated with high educational achievement and enjoyment by students. Explanations of intrinsic motivation have been given in the context of Fritz Heider’s attribution theory, Bandura’s work on self-efficacy, and Deci and Ryan’s cognitive evaluation theory (see self-determination theory). Students are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they:

attribute their educational results to internal factors that they can control (e.g. the amount of effort they put in),
believe they can be effective agents in reaching desired goals (i.e. the results are not determined by luck),
are interested in mastering a topic, rather than just rote-learning to achieve good grades.

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards like money and grades, coercion and threat of punishment. Competition is in general extrinsic because it encourages the performer to win and beat others, not to enjoy the intrinsic rewards of the activity. A crowd cheering on the individual and trophies are also extrinsic incentives.

Social psychological research has indicated that extrinsic rewards can lead to overjustification and a subsequent reduction in intrinsic motivation. In one study demonstrating this effect, children who expected to be (and were) rewarded with a ribbon and a gold star for drawing pictures spent less time playing with the drawing materials in subsequent observations than children who were assigned to an unexpected reward condition and to children who received no extrinsic reward.

Self-determination theory proposes that extrinsic motivation can be internalised by the individual if the task fits with their values and beliefs and therefore helps to fulfill their basic psychological needs.

wundayatta's avatar

@Joybird How did you become so familiar with this stuff? Are you familiar with Alfie Cohen’s work?

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