Should we reward naughty children?


22 Jun Should we reward naughty children?

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” — Plato, the Greek philosopher, knew what he was talking about!

This sentiment is echoed by child experts who feel that parents and teachers can tone down the unruly behavior of a child by rewarding her when she behaves properly. This method is called positive reinforcement by psychologists, which involves adding a reinforcing stimulus after a desired behavior so that good behavior is more likely to be repeated.

Naughty children are seeking your attention

In 2007, the British government’s data showed that 200 children were turned back home from school because of their bad behavior. Experts believe that these children should be rewarded and praised when they show up on time and concentrate on schoolwork. Their naughty acts should be ignored because they are, in essence, looking for other people’s attention. By systematically ignoring disorderly conduct, it is possible to make such children become more disciplined and raise levels of attendance in school.

According to Dr. Lynn Rogers from the Institute of Education, “Schools where pupils’ achievements are celebrated, however small, encourage them to be self-motivated and self-disciplined, reducing the need to police their behavior and attendance.” Professor Susan Hallam, who works at the same institute, adds, “For children who seek attention, being given it through punishment will be rewarding.” She also said that disregarding bad behavior where possible and rewarding good behavior “will lead to repetition and bring about change.”

The reward chart technique

The reward chart technique is said to be effective in teaching naughty children good behaviors and driving into them an understanding of what is acceptable. Reward charts are most suitable for children aged between 3 and 8. They are meant to tame all sorts of bad behavior, such as tantrums, lying, hitting, kicking, refusing to do chores, or using foul language.

Children are awarded points for good behavior and once a certain number of points are earned, a reward is given. The rewards in question are usually small things that the child loves, such as a trip to the beach or the amusement park, a new box of crayons, or a favorite dish.

Ignoring bad behavior

All this leads to the conclusion that it is best to ignore bad behavior and not reward it. This is easy to say but difficult to implement. However, it has been experimentally proven to work.  Parents may feel that being dismissive of bad behavior is akin to tolerating it, but one should remember that the child is demanding your attention by indulging in unruly conduct and by punishing her, you are giving her that attention.

A study conducted by Dutch neuroscientists on children aged 8-9 years old and 11-12 years old involved teaching these children a computer task using rewards or punishments. They had to figure out the rules of the task and when they correctly worked out a rule, they were rewarded by an indication on the screen. If they were wrong, they were punished by being shown a cross on the screen. It was observed that in younger children, performance was significantly better when they received positive feedback as compared to negative feedback. This means that their performance was better when they were told when they did well rather than when they didn’t do too well.

In other studies in adults aged between 18 and 25 years, it has been observed that negative feedback works better than positive feedback.

The answer lies in the brain

The reason for this difference lies in the way in which children’s brain centers are activated. Brain imaging tests have shown that in younger children, brain centers that controlled cognitive processes were more intensely activated when they got positive feedback as compared to older children.

A theory as to why this happens has been advanced by certain scientists. According to them, it is easier to process information that is simple, positive, and rewarding. Having to learn from one’s mistakes involves complex processing that includes finding out what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how it can be avoided.

Thus, rewards do work better to discipline naughty children, especially pre-adolescent ones. The challenge lies in controlling one’s own frustration and anger while dealing with disciplining an unruly child.


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