The best time to buy workout clothes at secondhand stores is early February. I don’t know this for sure, but it’s always when I discover the best Athleta, Columbia, and Adidas gear at mind-blowing prices. I’ve found pieces that look brand new, and I have a guess as to why. People buy workout clothes in January as motivation to exercise, and once they realize it isn’t going to happen, they get rid of them. It’s basically a backwards sticker chart for grownups. Extrinsic (or external) motivation rarely works for grown-ups, and it rarely (at least with long-term results) works for children.
Sometimes I’m tempted to introduce a sticker chart for bed making, dog feeding, or good big-sistering (my own word, I know.) Sticker charts seem to be the first place our minds go to when faced with a parenting challenge. But I have to remind myself: sticker charts and rewards systems don’t have a place in a Charlotte Mason home.
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What Charlotte Mason Said
In principles 3 and 4 of Charlotte Mason’s educational synopsis, in the very beginning of all of her volumes, she wrote:
The principles of authority, on the one hand and obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but–
These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon, whether by fear or love, suggestion or influence, or undue play upon any one natural desire.”
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Brandy Vencel from Afterthoughts Blog explains Charlotte Mason’s use of the word suggestion as “a subtle sort of manipulation.” I used plenty of sticker charts, pizza parties, and incentive jars during my public school days, and I’m not sure they fit into the “subtle” category! Offering rewards in the form of sticker charts, pizza parties, or incentive jars, whether at home or at school, doesn’t show respect to the personality of children. It plays upon a child’s natural desire for junk food, or pretty, shiny things.
And in case that doesn’t convince you, there are many more reasons.
What Research Says
Education expert Alfie Kohn wrote a lot about the topic of rewards- he devoted an entire book to it. (You can read the article The Risks of Rewards here, or see his book here.) Kohn mostly discussed rewards used in classrooms, but one example stood out to me.
He described a study where young children were asked to drink kefir. One group of children had no prompting or incentives; one group had verbal praise; and one group was rewarded with a special treat for drinking the beverage. The group who received no incentives liked the beverage the most after a week. This is a type of situation that is most likely to come up in our homes during our child’s early years. How often do Nate and I use dessert as a reward for a clean plate at dinner time? (Answer- way, way too often.)
The Downsides of Sticker Charts and Other Rewards
I’ve probably said this before, but I love how so much of Charlotte Mason’s works align with modern-day research! Here are the downsides of these rewards- some of them are from Charlotte Mason and Alfie Kohn.
- Children become disinterested in whatever they were bribed to do.
and nothing worse could have happened to our schools than the system of marks, prizes, place-taking, by which many of them are practically governed. A boy is so taken up with the desire to forge ahead that there is no time to think of anything else. What he learns is not interesting to him; he works to get his remove.” Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
- Rewards don’t encourage children to grow into people who care.
- Giving lots of rewards develop children who are less generous than their peers.
Rewards don’t change underlying emotions that affect behavior.
- It’s a form of manipulation (Mason and Kohn both said this!)
- Children “motivated” by rewards aren’t as inclined to think creatively, explore new topics, or accept challenges.
- Children become dependent on someone else’s approval
The problem is not how much motivation a child has, but what motivates your child. Take the time to help them find intrinsic motivation. Charlotte Mason suggested starting a game in another room when children should be finishing up their work. This gives them a reason to finish the assignment, task, etc. without having to say, “If you finish your writing, you can play the game!”
Introduce inspirational ideas that help to inspire and motivate your child.
Because of human nature, some of the things we tend to bribe our children to do are just habits that haven’t been formed yet. Instead of bribing with rewards, work on forming positive habits in the early years.
Become your child’s “friendly ally” rather than carrot dangler. Work with them to help them achieve the goal.
Identify your child’s rights and privileges. This allows us to consider if we really have to allow our child to eat dessert, or play a game on the iPad. These don’t necessarily need to be used as rewards or incentives, but having no consequences for difficult behavior can (will?) lead to entitlement.
Use natural and relative consequences. I explained this more in the eBook that I recently wrote, but basically, allowing your child to experience the natural consequences of their actions, or coming up with a consequence that is related to the behavior offers a gentle learning opportunity for your child.
Do you mind if I go back to the workout analogy? Before I had kids, I signed up for a sprint (very short!) triathlon. A friend had mentioned it and asked me to sign up, so I did. Since I did at a friend’s request, I wasn’t intrinsically motivated. At all. I didn’t train, I didn’t really have the right gear, and the day of the race, it wasn’t a pretty sight. By the end, I really regretted not training. A few years later, when Miss H was about 15 months old, I decided to do another sprint triathlon. This time, I wanted to model healthy habits to my daughter. I wanted to set and achieve a physical goal. Needless to say, this time around went much better. I actually trained, and when race day came along, I did better (and felt better.)
Mamas, let’s fight this sticker chart culture, and raise kids that are motivated for the right reasons.