When you do something for someone, do you expect a reward or some sort of compensation? Most of the time, probably not. As humans, we abide by social norms that condition us to help others without feeling the need for something in return.
Unfortunately, this “give one, get one” mentality might be pervading our society at the earliest ages, writes Atlantic contributor Erica Reischer.
The cause? Sticker charts.
Sticker charts are used in various environments to help (supposedly) motivate a child to do something you want. For example, at home, parents may institute a system in which children get rewards for doing chores or homework. After earning so many stars, the child might get something like a new toy, a sweet treat, or a special event like a movie.
Schools have been known to use a color system that rewards good behavior by labeling a child “green” and bad behavior by moving a child to a “red” level. PBS has 7 reasons teachers should avoid this tactic, even if it is effective in the short term.
So what’s the trouble with using sticker charts, and how does it actually undermine a child’s natural inclination to be a learner and helper? Here are three reasons to consider.
1. Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
A child is a natural learner. From walking to learning to talk, they are constantly gathering and analyzing information from their environment to teach themselves. They feel the desire to learn, and enjoy doing so! This is called intrinsic motivation.
Adults can sometimes get in the way of or interrupt intrinsic motivation when we attempt to motivate externally by offering rewards or praise for a child’s work. This is called extrinsic motivation.
The sticker chart is a perfect example of extrinsic motivation in that the child is no longer striving for mastery of a skill for his or her own needs, but rather is only doing so to receive the ‘reward’ of a sticker.
2. Expectations are everything
The colored sticker system sometimes used in schools – green is good, red is bad – creates an unhealthy expectation for a child among the peer group.
If a child consistently gets labeled with “red” for misbehaving, how will other children start to treat that child differently? Children are keenly observant, and they will quickly come to differentiate a group mate based on their color chart.
Instead of a chart with good and bad labels, teachers and parents can help children learn to be empathetic and to expect the best out of every member of the class rather than the worst from a few.
3. The desire to do good
Stickers are often given for doing a specific task, like washing the dishes, but what happens when rewards are offered for other behaviors like sharing or helping?
“Studies have shown that offering children tangible rewards in exchange for caring behavior may diminish future helpful behavior and can erode children’s innate tendency to help others.” writes Reischer.
Children naturally want to help and are extremely empathetic. Rather than creating a reward system or bullying children into a good deed, we can call upon their natural inclination by creating an environment in which a helping hand is the norm rather than something to be rewarded.
What are your opinions on sticker charts or a reward system for children? Have you found it to be helpful or detrimental in your family or classroom? We’d love to hear your experiences in Guidepost Parent Chat.
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