Behavior management is always a hot topic among adults who live or work with children. So many theories. So many opinions about the best way to proceed. But here’s the problem. While most are well intended, many don’t work.
Rewards are a good example. They may produce short-term compliance. But they do little to increase children’s ability to regulate or change their behavior.
Why? Because they are based on faulty logic. As Ross Greene likes to say “children do well when they can”.(www.livesinthebalance.org). Nothing is more satisfying to children than the sense of mastery that comes from self–regulation. It helps them reach their goals and “control their destiny.” If the environment is set for success, there is no need for additional reinforcement.
Here’s another problem with rewards. They assume that children understand cause and effect relationships. Many don’t. Repeated experiences of inconsistent care or unpredictable outcomes make it difficult for them to relate behavior to its consequences. They think that rewards and punishments depend more on an adult’s mood than on their effort.
Which is perhaps the most negative effect of rewards. They teach children to look outside themselves for affirmation. This external “locus of control” puts children at risk for a variety of social problems: substance abuse, delinquency, school failure.
Good behavior management encourages children to think for themselves. It focuses on relationships that nurture children and teach them social skills. Relationships that foster strong alliances between children and emotionally available adults. For most children that’s all the reward they need.