parent opinion

"A dollar for every book you read": Let’s talk about the new ‘reward parenting’.

In aisle 3 at Woolies yesterday, a little girl was shaking a jar of hundreds and thousands into her open mouth. Her mum called out from the other end of the aisle. ‘Put the sprinkles down please Courtney and I’ll get you a cookie’. Welcome to the new frontier – reward parenting.

There was no response from the little girl so her Mum increased her bid. ‘C’mon… We’ll get you some snakes as well. You like snakes’. This satisfied both parties and the little girl relinquished her sprinkles in favour of a cookie and a bag of Snakes Alive.

In reward parenting, good behaviour is incentivised through offers of food, toys or money. Usually, some sort of chart and gold stars are involved and successful outcomes have been reported (at a cost to parents, obviously).

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Of course, it’s all very unfamiliar to me. I was never able to extort my mum in this way. She didn’t subscribe to reward parenting. I just did the dishes, my homework and put the garbage out gratis.

After what I witnessed at Woolies, I wondered how my mum had gotten me to give up my jar of sprinkles without so much as a mention of a reward? Why the hell did I agree to wash the dishes after dinner without any kind of treat? Why did I take myself off to bed when Fat Cat came on the TV at 7:30 every night out without so much as a Curly Wurly for my troubles?

Kids nowadays get far more for doing far less.

Take my friend’s seven-year-old boy for example. Having been a bit indifferent towards reading his school readers, she employed some reward parenting to solve the problem, offering him a dollar for every book he read before bed. It’s like the MS Read-a-thon but instead of the money raised going towards helping people with multiple sclerosis, it’s almost exclusively spent on LEGO Ninjago at the end of each month.

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Immediately though, the little guy was racing to bed every night and dutifully pulling out his library books, eager to hear the satisfying clunk of another four dollars in his piggy bank.

A month later, she reports his comprehension skills are much improved and he is the reigning student of the week.

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Parents all over Australia have their own creative reward-based systems. There are stickers going on wall charts, points being tallied on fridges and lollies being liberally distributed. Kids are cleaning up.

Even the major supermarkets reward kids for helping with the shopping. When was the last time you walked out without an Ooshie, Stickee, Disney DVD or miniature can of green beans?

My sister is not into reward parenting. She’s a bit more hard and fast with her parenting. She doesn’t devote much time to negotiating with her two little girls.

According to her, it’s important for them to learn to negotiate with themselves and offering them rewards would just circumvent the whole process. ‘They just tend to negotiate themselves out of a strop’, she claims, and the results speak for themselves.

Without conceding so much as a chocolate frog, I’ve witnessed my nieces making their beds every morning before they get on the school bus and eating dinner with a knife and fork. The old model is still alive and well.

It doesn’t stop other people rewarding her girls though. Last week the newsagent gave both her girls a chocolate frog on the way to school. Not really reward parenting per se, just evidence that cuteness has its advantages.

Whichever way you choose to go, it seems punishment is no longer the go which comes as a relief to me. Not because I ever copped a smack from my mum but because I will no longer have to face her disappointment.

Her ‘I’m very disappointed with you’ routine was about the worst punishment of all.

Are you a fan of reward parenting? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

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