I am sure we have all been there: where we would do ANYTHING to get our kids to do what we need them to do, i.e. revise for an exam, get those grades, do their homework, go to school without throwing a tantrum (for all ages!), eat their dinner, go to bed or maybe just be nice to their siblings!
But whatever it is that we want our kids to do we need to be very careful not to reward them from our ‘short term goals’; i.e. to get one thing done in the here and now, or just for peace and quiet. This can have a negative knock on effect, making things worse in the long run. Sweets, screen time and toys are the most common rewards because all kids love them.
- Rewarding with sweets triggers the reward centre of the child’s brain, creating an emotional charge around unhealthy food, and spikes the blood sugar, leaving them with a sugar crash and craving more! So not good practice for the longer term.
- We know that kids should not spend too much time on screens so why make it into a positive reward?
- And don’t get me started on toys! This just gets them used to ‘getting something’ for just doing what is good for them or what needs to be done. They might then find it hard to motivate themselves in the future when they are not ‘getting something from someone’.
What about ‘getting something’ for good grades? Really the reward IS the good grade itself, which maybe means getting into their chosen university or getting closer to the job they want or simply feeling proud of themselves and gaining a sense of personal satisfaction. My son once asked me; ‘Mum if I get an A for my GCSEs, what do I get?’. I replied ‘An A!’. But during his revision period we spent time together; he could choose dinners he really liked and on the night of the exam he could choose a restaurant where we would go out to eat.
So here is the thing, why do we associate rewards with what is ‘bad for us’? Why not reward with a bowl of red berries (they are expensive so can be viewed as a treat). What about time together; reading a book together, playing a game, baking a cake as a reward (all kids really want is your attention). Or a big reward could be to treat your kids to a trip to the book shop to get a new book!
So have a think: how can I establish a reward system that is healthy for mind and body AND fits my long term goal of healthy, happy and self-motivated kids!
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