My child won't obey unless I promise him a reward!

QUESTION:

My child won’t mind me unless I promise a reward. So, sometimes I tell my daughter I’ll give her a quarter if she gets buckled into the seatbelt without argument. Is that okay? Do you use rewards? If so, how?

Answer:

Rewards do have a place in parenting. But I try to avoid using them as an external motivator, and use them in a short term way to implement change.

A personal example: When I was losing weight after Liam was born, I bought myself a pair of jeans and this helped me keep motivated to stick with the eating changes. My true motivation was to be healthy and feel better. The reward of a new pair of jeans that fit helped me keep on track and gave me something tangible during the very long transition time.

A family example: When I was working on getting us into a routine, I made up sticker charts. We didn’t get anything except the stickers, but the kids really loved putting them on the chart, and it showed us what we’d done and what we hadn’t. It also kept us motivated to get the sticker blocks all filled in. Eventually we were in the new routine and didn’t use the stickers anymore.

I think what you’re doing with the quarter is fine and here’s why: it is taking the struggle and the negativity out of the issue. It is immediate and does not require she perform over a long period of time to earn something. And, not getting it isn’t an option because not wearing the seat belt isn’t an option. You are setting her up for success and making sure she is successful. Eventually the struggle will be gone and you can stop the reward – or keep it as an inexpensive tradition when you go to the store.

I have a problem with rewards when the threat of not getting it is hanging over the child’s head, and the only motivator for cooperation/success is the reward. If there is no other motivation and no internal benefit, then I don’t see a point in rewarding the behavior (for example, money for good grades).