Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reward Vs. Punishment

My music history professor in college was amazing. It was one of my favorite classes, and he was a very popular professor. He used to reach into his pocket and see what kind of change he had, and offer a coin for a question. An easy question was only worth a penny, but a really hard one was worth a quarter. It wasn't the amount of money, obviously, that we were winning, but it was the principle of the win.

One day with a particularly difficult student, I decided to try out the concept-I teach private piano and violin lessons. I wanted this student to really try her best, so I looked into my wallet to see what kind of change I had. I offered her a "not so shiny 1996 penny" if the she could play a passage 3 times, or with no mistakes. Suddenly a huge smile crossed her face. A tedious task just got interesting to her.

Here's where it got interesting to me.

When she was working to get the penny, her attention was great and she achieved the task. I then told her to play the same passage 3 times and if she made a mistake, I would take the penny back. She couldn't even get through it once. Hmmm...

Of course, I gave her the option to win the penny again, which she did.

This got me thinking, I tried this with a bunch of my students and the same result happened. They performed so much better when there was a reward, instead of a punishment. Now, I wasn't bribing them, just sort of making things a bit more light hearted and fun. This really motivated the unmotivated students, and those already motivated just had a bit more fun.

I think that people are naturally motivated by "triumph" and avoid "failure" It feels better to win a race, than trying not to lose.

With our own children, it's so easy to let things go until we get to a point that we need to threaten punishment. What if we offered a reward early in the game for good behavior, good grades or just good eating?

Post a comment on what reward systems you use with your family.

1 comment:

Susan Epstein said...

Hi Hallie,

As a parent coach and family therapist for many years I have had the opportunity to witness all kinds of rewards vs. punishment systems.

I advocate to not punish, rather teach and correct for behaviors that are annoying and negative. This is acheived through repetitive and calm corrections.

For increasing positive behaviors in children I recommend rewarding with time with you, the parent.

For more, get your free special report on "How to Take Back Your Parenting Power" at
Susan P. Epstein, LCSW, Parent Coach