Actual Families, Actual Challenges
Throughout this book I have described concerns facing parents with whom I have worked in order to illustrate salient concepts and practices. I hope that reviewing the reasoning I applied as a child clinical psychologist to support those parents efforts will enhance your own capacity to think through whatever challenges you confront over the years that you work to guide your children toward responsible adulthood. To support your efforts, here are additional real-life situations, each addressing one of a wide variety of challenging circumstances.
Rewards or Bribery?
You say it is a good idea to reward children for appropriate behavior. Isn’t that just a fancy way to say you should bribe your children?
When I first began my classes, many parents asked this question, but when I began sharing parents’ reports that whatever form of punishment they used were largely ineffective, the frequency of the question dropped dramatically. Still, the question persists and deserves comment.
It is instructive to consider Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary’s definition:
Bribery: the act or practice of giving, offering, or taking rewards for corrupt practices; the act of paying or receiving a reward for a false judgment or testimony, or for the performance of that which is known to be illegal or unjust. It is applied both to the one who gives and to the one who receives the bribe, but especially to the giver.
The central element here is payment for doing something corrupt, illegal, or otherwise inappropriate.
Thus, your question implies that there is something vastly inappropriate about rewarding children for doing what they are supposed to do. Yet, reinforcing children for appropriate behavior is much the same as paying adults for their work. As a personal example, when I “do the right thing” by caring for people with whom I work as a psychologist, I am paid for my effort and my time – neither illegal nor, I trust you will agree, inappropriate.
Our program of credits and earned rewards – both material and social – reflects an exchange system long accepted in our society. Thus, in marked contrast to a person rewarding corrupt practices, your home program rewards appropriate behavior and provides loving support for your children’s growth and development.
One further point should be stressed: the Principle of Positive Reinforcement, upon which this program is based, exists in nature and is a reflection of the way behavior arises and is modified, whether or not we attend to the fact; it is not something we have imposed on our children or ourselves, it is just the way it is. Our monetary systems represent an implicit, if not typically explicitly acknowledged, implementation of the principle.