What do Rewards Teach Your Child?

Irene: “I remember that I always got a cookie after dinner, if I ate my vegetables. What’s wrong with that. Every kid goes through that.

Therapist: “It’s called bribery, that’s what’s wrong with it. It’s a short-cut that parents take when they are too busy to secure cooperation. It teaches children to expect life to reward them for doing what they are supposed to do.”


Irene: “I never thought of it that way.”

Therapist: “Most people don’t. It also teaches the child that, if there is no `compensation’ then there is no point in `good’ behavior. As a result, we teach children to be calculating, manipulative, self-centered and cynical. When such children grow up, they will carry these unrealistic expectations into the adult world. They will expect their employers and partners to reward their `goodness’ just the way their parents used to, and they will get angry when the expected compensation isn’t there.”

Irene: “Is that why I felt so `justified’ when I get angry at my son, because he didn’t acknowledge all I do to pay for his expenses?”

Therapist: “That’s part of it. You could also be carrying some perceptions from your own childhood into your relationship with your son. You thought that these expectations were realistic and valid, but they are based on childhood logic.”

Irene: “What sort of logic?”

Therapist: “Take the belief, `One good turn deserves another.’ That is how some define `fairness.’ It may sound like an ideal way of conducting your life. But it’s only an ideal. Your mistake lies in getting angry when imperfect human beings don’t live up to your ideals. You exaggerate the importance of this belief, and you judge people who do not reciprocate as consistently as you do. You would be less vulnerable to these outbursts of anger if you perceived this ideal as a preference. I agree that people would feel respected if everyone gave as good as they got, but it’s only a preference.”

Irene: “Why should I bother doing good things for my child then, if it’s all a one-way street?”

Therapist: “Is that why you do good things, Irene? If you buy him a toy, do you expect him to buy you a house when you’re old and gray? I hope not. You can teach your child to be generous, fair and considerate, not by shrieking demands at him, but by acting as a role model and setting an example of these qualities for him to follow. You are not setting this kind of example now.”

Irene: “What’s wrong with expecting him to be fair?”

Therapist: “Where is it written that life is fair? Life is not fair; life is not unfair either. Life is life, and we do the best we can with it. We take it as it comes. We don’t always get what we prefer, but our life goes on. If you are going to do something good for your child, you do it because that is the type of parent you want to be, not because you have some ulterior motive or high-sounding ideal.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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