Friday, March 15, 2013

Heads or Tails, Your Children Lose

Common reader question: Why do I oppose reward-based parenting, often called parenting with praise or positive parenting?

Because it's simply a different side of the same coin, with the other side being punitive parenting. Whether using rewards or punishments, the goal of the parent is to shape the child's behavior externally. Internal development of morals, ethics, critical thinking and self-actulization are minimized or even ignored.

Motivating our children from a young age to behave certain ways for praise or to avoid certain behavior to avoid punishment risks developing people who rely on external compasses to make decisions for them. Their obedience is not to integrity but to what their peers or their authority are telling them to do at the moment.

A child taught to perform only for praise is a child at odds when he is surrounded by peers ready to praise him for wrongdoing but to criticize him for sticking to his values. A child taught to obey to avoid punishment is a child unable to fight injustice or unable expect fairness and improvement from anyone or any entity such as a spouse, boss or government.

Perhaps the aspect most missed by those who promote praise or punitive parenting is that every time the parent focuses on rewarding or punishing, an opportunity to focus on internal development is lost. Instead of working side by side with the child to ask questions about the situation, to analyze right from wrong, to find out what the child is feeling and sensing, to uplift the child for sticking with a commitment or to encourage the child to try again, all of that is tossed to the side for mere externals.

The child is taught to make important ethical, moral or even faith decisions on the basis of puffy words filled with good jobs or threatened blows to the psyche or body. Even if the child is later able to learn about the deeper reasons to obey or disobey a law or to act in certain ways in public, he has received training from his earliest years to listen to praise and punishment first. Her lifelong struggle will be to overcome the trained desire to seek praise or avoid punishment first and think critically to act with integrity second.

Will the child never be rewarded? Never punished? Oh no, our society and this world will ensure plenty of rewarding and punishing, whether for the right things or the wrong things. That should only have us wanting to commit to unconditional parenting all the more, in the hopes of standing by our children as they develop an internal, strong and reliable compass to navigate this often hypocritical and backwards world.

So when you hear me say I don't support praise or reward-based parenting, I'm not saying to be harsh to children. I'm not saying to never uplift them or share words of love and happiness with them. I'm not saying that a reward is as painful as a punishment. I'm saying the entire coin of rewarding and punishing is but a penny, the smallest and least valuable coin in the pocketbook of parenting.

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