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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Rewards: Incentives or Distractions?

Just as I was getting ready to leave from from private school Wushu classes, a little girl came out of one of the classrooms, crying.

"Sheila..., what's wrong?"

Sheila struggled to catch her breath between sobs. "I got a missed point on my point sheet because I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing....."

(At this school, kids get daily report cards. Kids earn points toward "marks".....)

"Aaw. Can I ask...will it be the end of the world if you miss a point? You can make up the point, you know..." I said.

"Yeah, but......"

"Are you disappointed because you expected all good marks today?" I asked.

"No. Not disappointed".

Puzzled, I asked "You're not gonna get a Minus from this are you? ("minus" mark means "fell well below expections")"

"No. No minus. I just won't make an the "met all expectations" mark"

"So, you're disappointed about missing the "excellent" mark?"

"No....." She sobbed more.

Now I'm really puzzled. Usually, even if you don't get the "met all expecations" mark, you can make up for it in another tracks of that class. Its common for kids to get a check mark or even a minus mark some days. So I was wondering why she was so upset. Then....she told me.....

..."Its just that my Mom told me that if I got all equals until Spring Break, then I'd get to go on a vacation to Disneyland with my friend that I havent seen in 3 months...."

"Aaaah. So, let me're working on good marks, just for a vacation to Disneyland? I see. You're upset because you know you might not make all 'equals' marks until Spring Break, huh?..."

"Yeah, and that means I won't go to disneyland with my best friend...". More sobs. Its was heartbreaking.

I spoke a lower, softer voice and intentionally breathed in even breaths, to try and get her to follow my rhythm. "Sheila...please listen. You can go back in class and earn that missed point back, or we can sit out here and talk about how you will not go to Disneyland because you weren't on task. I know you can be on task..."

"But what about Disneyland??? If I can't earn that point, I'm not goinggggg!"

More sobs. More erratic breathing.

"Sheila...are you trying hard for good marks for being proud of trying your best in school,...or are you only trying hard just so you go to Disneyland? Remember what I talked about in class last week?"

"Yeah.....we study and try hard to earn experience and knowledge, not just points. Points just tell us how we're doing with gaining knowledge".

"That's right. So what is important? Knowledge that will stick with you the rest of your life? Or only a few days in Disneyland?. Disneyland is cool, but I guarantee you'll have lots of opportunities to go to Disneyland. Or 6 flags. Or anywhere else!"

"I guess...Knowledge is more important."

"Yes sirree. Knowledge and pride in you accomplishents are your real rewards. Disneyland is extra icing on the fun cake, huh? Sheila smiled and wiped her eyes.

"Now get back in there and earn that missed point back! And I hope to hear about your Disneyland trip!". Sheila ran back to her classroom.

Rewards: Incentives or Distractions?

As a teacher, I do use rewards as an incentive for the kids at my martial arts school. Maybe a fun little game for a class's excellent effort, or for little ones, stickers that say "I did my best today!" when they try their best. It doesn't matter that they might've made mistakes...if they try hard to correct themselves, have fun, and put in good effort, they've earned rewards. But I keep the rewards realistic, and I don't do games or stickers every day. I don't want kids to believe that they can get the reward by just showing up to class.

When teaching our own kids at home, let's do the same thing. Keep it realistic. Base the rewards on fun things, yes...but to promise something so big as a trip to Disneyland for an 8 year old child if they are "perfect" in school....that's setting up for a very upset child if he or she realizes they weren't "perfect".

At this age group, the concepts of self-esteem, confidence, and pride through accomplishement, are just starting to make sense to kids. To attach rewards that are associated with things that kids really desparately want to do, want to get, or think are cool, will only result in kids working at goals just to get the reward. Instant gratification. "I got my "A", so give me my vacation". "I got my "A", so buy me a car". When kids are taught from a young age to expect that the World is owed to them if they do one little thing correctly, they will learn to expect the World for *every* little thing done correctly. This will backfire....even though kids will do the correct things, and the right things, they might be apt to get very upset when things don't go their wayc or if they feel their efforts are not "correct". A downward spiral with self confidence, a questioning of self worth, and the questioning of the "fairness" of the World, could result. I'm not saying it *will*....what I'm saying is, depending how the child is taught, it might end up in the child seeing their surroundings as "not fair" when things don't go their way. Or, in extreme instances...resulting in a child obsessed with being "perfect" to avoid disappoinment in anything.

If these traits linger into adulthood, it is possible that it could affect their lives in different ways. It may affect how they work, it may affect how they interact with others, it may affect their own expectations of others.

Support our kid's efforts, and Reward wisely. Let's teach our kids the true meaning of effort and accomplishment...if they understand those, the rewards you give will be that much *more*....rewarding.

Train hard...train well.


Michael said...

I really like what you're saying about these traits possible remaining into adulthood. It's so true. Many of the clients we work with are stunned when they realize that it is this kind of unfinished childhood work that leads them to attract problematic partners. Relationships are truly a form of martial arts training.
Michael Sherman -

Restita, Seattle Wushu Center said...

Hi Michael, thank you for commenting. On my old blog, I had a post that compared martial arts training to relationships...I'm in the process of slowly moving all my old post from my old blog to this newer Blogspot blog, so I'll have to find it and re-port here! :)