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Punishments, Rewards and Praise with Children

We all have an innate need for love and attention - look out for my vlog on this topic, as it very much connects with what follows here.

I never advise that parents should or shouldn't do anything as I know everyone is unique and all situations are different. Taking information and knowledge from different sources and using what's best for you and your family is great. I say it's all about the path of least stress.

Punishment mostly translates to blame, shame and pain. It can overpower a child with fear and they will shut down or lie to get out of it. Blame, pain and shame can encourage children to lie, or take revenge as it breeds anger and resentment. It also misses a learning opportunity and erodes trust as the person they love the most is doing this to them.

There can still be consequences for negative behaviour though and these can be given in a gentle, respectful manner. They can work best if the consequence is related to the behaviour, e.g. if a child refuses to brush their teeth, explain to them they can’t eat any sweet things as they will rot their teeth. Or if a child won’t wear a bike helmet, they can’t go cycling as they could hurt themselves. These consequences are connected and can be explained without shouting, blaming or dominating a child. The child is then more likely to make the right decisions for themselves.

Rewards are another common method used by most schools and parents, including myself. But instead of building up self-esteem they can potentially discourage and diminish a child’s internal motivation. If children are rewarded for things they do, they may get the message that they only work hard or help if there’s something in it for them (although on the flip side, getting rewards reflects real life in getting paid for work).

There’s been a lot of studies showing that children try harder or pick a more difficult task when they’re doing it for themselves, i.e. not to please a parent or teacher to then get praise or rewards all the time. Being proud of themselves and having a sense they’ve contributed to something is far more beneficial than constantly trying to gain – and maintain - acknowledgement and approval from others, which brings about high pressure and stress.

Praise is very similar to rewards and this I find the most difficult to put into practice. Praise can often mean judgement, focusing on the person, and is rewarding a child with words e.g. “your painting is amazing” or “I think you’re so clever / pretty”. Encouragement, on the other hand is inspiring, focusing on the action, effort and improvement.

I don’t want my children to feel they need to please me or others for acceptance, or feel the pressure to be who I’ve described them as (e.g. clever, pretty). I want them to think for themselves and feel good about their own hard work and perseverance. However, I also don't want them to see and hear all their friends getting praised and wonder why they aren't being told how great they are ... it's a tough one and a constant balance and work in progress!

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