Good golly, there are a lot of opinions out there about punishing and rewarding kids.
It’s so odd, because I can see the point of both sides of the spectrum. On the one hand, you have the extreme of operant conditioning. I have clicker trained animals in the past and I’ve been really happy with it as a method of teaching. But moving on to kids who are, you know, not animals (*cough*) sometimes I do food or item rewards if they’ve done a really great job on something. Maybe a sticker if they’ve done a good job cleaning their playroom. I enjoy telling them “thank you” for helping me out.
And sometimes I withhold stuff if some sort of mischief is going on. For example if Buzzy Bee and Cricket goof off during their bedtime routine, I cut down the number of songs I sing for them.
And in the other corner we have Alfie Kohn whose philosophy has been recommended to me by several people. I don’t claim to understand Mr. Kohn’s entire philosophy, but as I understand it he believes both punishment and rewards to be ineffective in teaching kids how to be good people and independent thinkers. His article “Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job”" illustrates some of his view points pretty well.
Now that my kids are at an age where they can reason, think and predict results, my discipline has changed. I can ask them for their opinions, like maybe asking what they think a nice thing to do after hitting someone else might be. I try to focus on their efforts (“Hey, you really worked hard on that drawing!”) rather than the outcome (“Gee, that drawing is really pretty!) If they’re using nice manners, I say “Wow, I really like these good manners! Keep it up!” I think some of these get down to the basics of what Mr. Kohn has to say – not exactly, maybe, but pretty close.
But we also live in a society that functions on punishments and rewards. I do the job, and then I get paid[*]. I break the law, I go to jail. Punishment. Rewards. This is how it is. If kids are raised in a completely operant conditioning-free environment, I think they’ll have a harder time establishing independence outside their home.
I think both philosophies have a place in my house. Operant conditioning, to me, is especially important when it comes to safety. You will look both ways before crossing the street or you will be punished. I’d rather my future teenager bitch to her friends about her strict mom than be paralyzed from being hit by a car. But logic and reason are now more effective for minor household scuffles (How would you feel if someone pulled your hair and took your toy?)
The discipline ocean is always shifting – the waves are coming and going and I’m doing my damnest to learn to surf. And at the end of this post, I have an observation: I feel judged about my parenting and discipline choices. I feel self conscious. I feel like I’m always making the wrong decision according to [fill in the zomg expert here]. I wrote this post to defend myself and my choices.
And it comes back to me. It’s not what my pediatrician or child development experts think of me. It’s what I think of me. It’s what I observe in my kids and how they respond to my parenting. I think the lesson here might be when I feel that Others are judging me, that I’m probably judging myself – and that’s what I need to recognize and investigate.
[*] Yes, it is true: I can work a Captain Malcolm Reynolds quote into ANY blog post!