Although, fortunately, more and more parents and educators are aware of the negative effect of rewards and punishments on children’s development and learning, there are still many people who continue to resort to these methods, either due to the lack of other respectful resources or because they ignore their consequences.
Today we talk about rewards and punishments : what effects do they have, how do they impact on the child’s personality, why are they not suitable methods to educate and what respectful alternatives exist.
Punishments and their negative consequences
When we punish a child we are depriving him of something ( “as you have behaved badly, today we will not go to the park” ), separating him from an activity that he likes ( “as punishment, you will not be able to continue playing with your friends” ), ridiculing him in front of to others, or withdrawing some privilege he already had ( “since you haven’t eaten everything, you won’t be able to play the video game console this afternoon” ).
Punishment may work in the short term , as no child wants to go through it and will most likely succumb to our threats for fear of the consequences. But in addition to not educating and being counterproductive, in the long run, the punishment will begin to lose effectiveness.
But in addition to not being effective, punishment directly affects the child’s self-esteem , causes resentment, cowardice, fear, frustration or lack of confidence in the responsible adult, among many other negative consequences.
Rewards and their dependency effect
Although it is not always easy to be aware of this, the truth is that rewards and punishments are two sides of the same coin.
And it is that like punishment, the prize aims to modify the child’s behavior using an external factor: the reward that each one decides to give.
As we have seen with punishment, rewards work in the short term (what child will not do what the adult tells them if they get something they like in return?), but what will happen when we stop rewarding them or when they stop to find our rewards attractive?
Well, it is most likely that when the external motivation that was leading him to act in that way disappears, his behavior will be extinguished.
But in addition, it is important to be aware of the null pedagogical value that prizes have . And it is that when a child acts blackmailed to get the promised reward ( “if you get good grades I’ll buy you a bike”, “if you eat everything, I’ll give you an ice cream for dessert” , “if you behave, we’ll go to the movies on next weekend”… ), we are not really teaching him to do things with full awareness, autonomy and freedom.
In short, the child does not act responsibly or learn from his own actions, but blinded by the idea of achieving his reward.
How to encourage positive behaviors in children without resorting to rewards or punishments
Many adults have been raised as children with rewards and punishments, so if we are not aware of their harmful effects, it is easy to perpetuate the same behaviors and end up resorting to these methods to educate.
That is why it is necessary to do an exercise in reflection and teach children to respect limits , not from the imposition caused by punishments and rewards, but from their own freedom and learning of life.
Setting clear, consistent and respectful limits
Limits are fundamental and necessary for the child’s happiness, for their physical and emotional well-being and for that of others. But it is possible to set limits on children without falling into rewards or punishments .
Those limits must be set with respect, empathy and coherence. Making the child a part of them, asking for their cooperation and correcting with kindness, love and firmness .
Giving the child freedom to act (within the limits set)
Rewards and punishments, as well as shouting, emotional blackmail or threats are ways that the adult has to control the situation, and in which the child is not allowed to act autonomously, reflect on his actions or make his own decisions. .
But within the limits set , the child should have the freedom to act, decide on certain aspects and resolve conflicts that may arise. Obviously, in this learning process they will make mistakes, but the respectful guidance of the adult will be key to learning from those mistakes.
Teaching him to fix his mistakes
We must teach the child to be responsible for their own actions, to repair their mistakes and take good note of them to avoid repeating them. To do this, you have to involve him in the search for a possible solution and show him the consequences that his actions may have had on others.
Let us remember that to learn it is necessary to make mistakes, so it is fundamental to let the child act freely, but without separating from his side.
Cheering and cheering him on
Children need our encouragement to continue advancing and to feel valid and useful within their group of belonging. But encouraging has nothing to do with praising, and it is important to know the differences so as not to fall into empty praise.
The encouragement makes the child realize how capable he is of doing things for himself. It gives you courage, strengthens your self-esteem and invites you to reflect on your own actions.
Helping you to be aware of your own achievements
There is no better reward for behavior than the inner reward we feel when we act responsibly. That is why it is so important for the child to understand that every act has consequences on the person himself (” if I do not study and consolidate content it will be difficult for me to keep up with the class and understand the teacher’s explanations” ) and/or others.
These consequences will be what motivate him to continue doing things like this ( “when I lend my ball I realize that all the children can play and we have a lot of fun together”) or, on the contrary, learn from mistakes and improve.
Photos | Cover (Pexels Vidal Balielo Jr), Photo 1 and 3 (iStock), Photo 2 (Pexels Pavel Danilyuk), Photo 4 (Pexels)
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