It was interesting to read the recent post by Dr. Deepak Chopra on this topic and specifically his starting point:
“There is another duality besides reward-punishment that plays a huge part in the career arc of every successful person: encouragement-discouragement.”
Indeed, it took decades for the education and parenting communities to reject punishment as a method, and increasingly the case for abandoning rewards too has become more obvious.
Why do rewards backfire? They are externally driven things that you either succeed in obtaining (winner) or you don’t (loser). When it becomes about winning/ losing, it results in lack of lasting internal satisfaction and a “more for me equals less for you” mentality.
So neither the stick nor the carrot can create the kind of strong, successful and cooperation focused mindsets that are needed to solve the challenges we face nowadays. What is needed instead is encouragement - the ability to find one’s own internally driven courage when faced with adversities. Developing a stronger sense of self reduces anxiety and fear of failure. It also increases the potential for cooperation with others to achieve the objectives.
So what does encouragement look like? Five simple, yet very effective strategies can get you started:
- Set a process for increased responsibility with clear consequences. You can give children from a young age increasing responsibility for their own behavior and outline clear alternatives for consequences of being responsible vs not. For example, delaying evening get to bed routine, might mean no time for story time. With older kids, not doing their homework may result in having to cancel a weekend play date. Kids are amazingly great at stepping up and growing into graduated levels of responsibility. They enjoy it tremendously too!
- Do not automatically step in to help or do it for them. There is a message stronger than any statements that kids get, if when they struggle with a situation or a task, an adult is on standby to rescue if needed, but does not interfere unless really really needed. It’s one of the hardest things for a parent to do, as it’s often easier, faster and better to just do it for them. But nothing replaces the character building experience of mastering a challenge on their own.
- Affirm their ability - “Yes, you can”. Sometimes kids will feel like giving up, but knowing that someone thinks it’s possible, gives the boost needed to succeed.
- Discuss (and even role-play) the right behaviors. In a previous post, we covered all the ways of helping kids understand what behaviors are expected and what are considered not acceptable. Just remember to review these often as kids tend to have a funny relationship with time - for them what happened 3 to 6 months ago seems like an eternity away.
- Do not lie to your kids. Successful entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive coached his daughter Anjali’s basketball team to get to the Nationals and their story was included in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book. Here is the advice he gives in the Forbes magazine site:
“Telling kids they’re doing a good job when they’re not does them a huge disservice when they grow up to be adults, competing in the business world. If we are honest with them from the beginning, they will learn the value of working harder to achieve what they want. This will make them tougher and more confident in the long run.”
- Catch them being ‘good’. When your child is behaving in the right way, notice it and acknowledge it. This prevents many situations where less acceptable actions would put you into a situation of having to go negative on them.
I hope these strategies help. If you have any other suggestions or things that work for your family, please comment!
Alexandra T. Greenhill, MD, Mother of three, CEO myBestHelper