Rewarding your child with material objects, can lead to worse behavior.
As parents we have been told that positive reinforcement creates more good behavior. Some money for cleaning your room, a movie ticket for getting good grades, extra x-box time for being nice to your brother. However, a study in the journal Child Development shows that our commitment to positive reinforcement can be counterproductive. This study shows that rewarding a child's sharing resulted in the child actually choosing to share less.
The study wanted to find out how many marbles 48 3-year-olds were willing to share with a puppet. During a game, it seemed as if a child happened to get three marbles while the puppet got only one. Half of the children noticed the difference and gave the puppet a marble without further prompting. If not, the puppet said, "I only got one marble" and then "I want to have as many marbles as you" and then, if needed, "Will you give me one?"
After the children had shared a marble, there were three ways of follow up. Some children simply moved on without any feedback, others were praised ("Oh thank you for sharing a marble with me! That was really nice"). And a third group was rewarded with a little toy.
After certain time passed the kids were tested again—over three related but different games. The result was that children continued to equalize an unfair outcome after the experience of praise or a neutral response. However, they shared less often after they had received material rewards!
The study shows that there is a sense of fairness in young children, but that this sense gets corrupted in a way by tying it to a reward. When the reward was absent, so was fairness. "Receiving a reward initially in the collaborative sharing context diminished children's motivation to share in new situations in which they had never been reinforced before," the paper writes.
Rewarding fairness makes children overall less fair on future tests. The message from this study is loud and clear: "Parents and educators should be encouraged to rely on intrinsic motivation and reinforce feelings of autonomy and competence as much as possible rather than to provide superfluous material incentives, which can even have detrimental effects."
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