Does Every Accomplishment Need A Prize? Learning About Expectations

When my children were young, we had certain expectations of them.  They were expected to be cooperative, to be good family members who were respectful & helpful and to do their best at school. My children didn’t expect not did they receive monetary awards or gifts for their grades.  From the time they were very young, we tried to teach them to feel pride and be self-motivated by their own efforts without expecting the world to shower them with prizes.  After all, when they became adults, their boss at work was not going to give them a reward every time they completed a project.  Though some occupational efforts may reap a bonus or a lovely holiday gift, it shouldn’t be an expectation for every action.

How do you teach children about expectations and pride in their accomplishments without running to the bank or the toy store?  You have to start very young with their first difficult tasks.  I was on Facebook recently and commented on a thread about toilet training.  A parent was looking for advice about encouraging her daughter to use the toilet.  Some people did note that they had stickers and rewards.  I commented with practical advice about ensuring that there was a stepstool so her daughter’s feet wouldn’t precariously dangle and ensuring not to make toilet training a battleground.  I told her to celebrate any effort.  She replied with a question – can celebrating the effort be enough or does there need to be a tangible reward system?  Celebrating the effort – clapping, dancing, calling a relative to tell them – all of that can and should be enough.

Children are not born expecting every day to be filled with game show prizes.  Adults teach them that. Very young children constantly seek our approval & attention and their greatest reward is getting it.  Do you remember when your children first started to giggle?  You likely spent a lot of time trying to get them to giggle again.  It is a back and forth – I want to make you laugh and you want to laugh to get my attention.  When they are infants, they already know that certain facial expressions and sounds will get their adults to look longer, laugh longer and applaud.  Then, adults make the mistake of muddying that system with tangible and costly items.  It shouldn’t be about items. It needs to be about pride and self-worth.

We – parents and teachers – are two of the most important influences on how children see themselves.  We are their mirrors.  When we are proud, they feel proud and accomplished.  Eventually, they integrate that and become self-motivating.  Efforts and accomplishments, doing what was difficult, should be its own reward.  You do not need to set up a monetary based reward system for what you expect your children to do. Not everything needs a sticker and prize system.  In fact, very little if anything does need that system if we guide our children kindly and teach them the beauty of feeling proud.  I expected my children to use a toilet, to have manners, to behave especially in public places, to attend school & give it their best effort, to help when asked, to be respectful….no prizes were offered and none were expected.

More articles about teaching children to feel proud of their accomplishments:

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