Whenever people bring up positive reinforcements or rewards parents always assert, “My kid should do it just because!” or ,“My kid should do it because I want them to,” or even, “My kid should do it because it is right.” When our kids are getting trophies for participation, they are not going to clean their rooms because it is right. This is a misguided understanding of human motivation.
There are two different kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation means doing something because it is right or someone else benefits. Extrinsic motivation means doing something because you are going to get a reward, something positive from the environment. We call this positive reinforcement.
Many parents push kids to be intrinsically motivated. Do it just because. Very few people and even fewer kids are intrinsically motivated.
Ask yourself if you would go to work without getting a paycheck? There might be a few people in the world who would say yes, but only a very few.
School is essentially work for a kid. They receive grades and praise for their work at school. They also will eventually receive a college education or a good job if they do well in school. It is hard to wait that long for a reward. If we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize we wouldn’t work or work very hard for brief praise and a piece of paper with the letter “A” on it.
Next you’ll ask won’t this make them dependent on only working for rewards. Yes! Which, if you think about it, is the way our world works. Most people operate with the understanding that they will be rewarded for hard work. There is very little in this world that isn’t a give and take. Take of the strongest intrinsic contingency as an example. Whether the gift is money or time, when a person donates to charity, they do not receive anything in return, past praise and acknowledgement. These givers still feel good about doing good.
These feelings are brought by a neurological process. Dopamine and other neurochemicals are pumped into the brain. (People have ruined their entire lives and died for these neurotransmitter via the abuse of drugs. ) Some people get these happy chemicals from charity work and some don’t. These people who get a lot of happy chemicals from charity probably do it all the time, or possibly dedicate their lives to it. The point—they still get something, something invaluable. No one does anything for nothing.
We humans don’t act without motivation. Sometimes motivation comes from a hug, a smile, and some neurotransmitters and sometimes we need more to motivate our actions. Instead of getting caught up on “he needs to do it because it is right,” realize that simple praise is not enough and start looking for an extrinsic way to motivate your child. And if trophies for participation create lazy adults who expect everything handed to them on the proverbial a golden platter then rewards for grades, chores, and good behavior will create an adult who realizes you need to work to earn something.