Follow by Email

Friday, November 23, 2012

What happens when parents use too much of rewards and punishment?

I met Sanjeevani, a mother of four year old daughter Vidya, yesterday. I am describing the event as it happened with me.

When i met Sanjeevani,, Vidya was eating a biscuit. So when Sanjeevani saw me talking to Vidya, she asked Vidya to give me a biscuit. Vidya refused. Sanjeevani continued to insist. " Why don't you give Uncle a biscuit". When Vidya did not budge, she told her that " I will give you one chocolate if you give Uncle a biscuit'. Vidya did not move. So she changed the tactic " Uncle gave you a chocolate yesterday. If you do not give him now, I will not give you anything again?'. Vidya continued to resist. Ultimately, she went inside, kept the box of biscuits inside the house and returned to talk to me. 

Are Sanjeevani's method of teaching behaviour right or wrong? What are its advantages and disadvantages?

Rewards and punishments are called as external motivators that are used to modify behaviour of children. They are also referred as Carrot and Stick method of motivating. For instance, Sanjeevani first tried using 'reward' when she told Vidya that 'she will give one chocolate if she gives Uncle the biscuit'. When it did not work, she used a veiled punishment ," I will not give you anything if you do not give him the biscuit". Both carrot and stick motivators did not help Sanjeevani alter Vidya's behaviour. But it could have worked also.

Whether they work or not, there are many disadvantages in using external motivators. One, the more you use them, the more addictive they are. For instance, next time Vidya will ask for chocolate if she has to do something again. Morever, because of addiction, Sanjeevani also has to increase the amount of reward. She may have to offer 'two chocolates' if the expected behaviour is difficult to undertake. But overuse of external motivators leads to one big and disastrous consequence: locus of child's control shifts from 'inside' to 'outside'.

As parents and elders keep on using more and more carrot and stick, the child starts depending more and more on outside control. Due to this dependence, the child's mechanism of internal controlling of behaviour never develops. Child never learns to find  'when to behave how and why' on his own. Because the child has never answered the question of 'why' himself, the child is 'rudderless'. The child's never develops his internal motivation. He never becomes autonomous or self-driven. When he grows old, he is confused when he has to chose the discipline after 10th class. Unable to stand up to his friends, he never chooses his values. He becomes a child who has no internal direction, but waits for others to direct him. He choses to do Engineering not because he wants it, but because most of the friends have chosen it.

The more earlier parents try to teach child to shift to internal motivation, the easier it is for him to understand the whys of making those choices and then sticking to those choices. In Montessori, when a child enters Montessori at the age of 3, he is unable to chose his 'activity' and 'place to work'. But in montessori school, he has to chose both. He is given the practice of developing his 'internal drive' at an early age.

Why do parents use external motivators to influence the child's behaviour more often? I can think of four reasons. One, they are simple to use. Parents use them automatically and unconsciously. Two, they are more acceptable way of influencing behaviour in the family. Everyone, including teachers, agree with this method of influencing behaviour. Three, parents do not know the ill-effects of using external motivators. And four, parents do not know how to shift their child from external motivation to internal motivation.

For instance, if Sanjeevani has to help Vidya to develop her internal motivation what should she do? She should ask Vidya and discover Vidya's reason of why she does not want to share the biscuit with Uncle? Is it because she likes biscuit too much? or is it because she is too hungry? Or is it because she is angry with Uncle for some past event? Or is it because she wants to give the biscuit to her friend who will come later? I always get surprised to hear the child's reasons even after hearing so many children.

Ofcourse, if Sanjeevani asks Vidya, Vidya is not going to 'answer' her immediately. Vidya first has to trust her mother to believe that her mother will listen to her. For this to happen, Sanjeevani has to learn to empathise with Vidya first. That is the first step of developing the trust. We shall later see how parents develop empathy. Without empathy, parents often ignore the way child thinks, because they do not 'consider' that the child's reason has merit. Parents therefore have to first realise that their child has a 'uniqe identity' and has her 'views' ( howosoever childish they may be). Only when parents respect the child's views, the child starts telling their 'thoughts' to parents. And only after their thoughts are understood by parents, parents can slowly influence them and help their child become an 'independent child'.

In other words, the child's shift to developing his internal motivation is a long and difficult process for parents ( not for child). Very few parents have the patience and energy to 'change' themselves to help their child. Instead, they are more comfortable in doing what other parents are doing. But when parents do decide to  go through the difficult process of helping their child, they are rewarded with a biggest prize of their life: of playing a big part in developing an independent child who can control his own destiny. 

Do you really want to help your child? 

No comments:

Post a Comment