Punishment & Rewards

Punishment & Rewards

by | Jun 4, 2024

Encouraging contribution and collaboration rather than punishment and rewards

Jane Nelsen says:

“Punishment and rewards are not the way to enforce limits. (I recommend the book Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.) This book is filled with research (usually buried in academic journals), demonstrating conclusively that punishment and rewards do not help children develop healthy personalities. It works much better when children are involved (through family meetings or joint problem-solving sessions) in setting limits, creating routines, and solving problems. Not only are children motivated to follow limits and routines when they have been involved in their creation, they are learning problem-solving skills. When something isn’t working, we suggest that parents ask their children to put the problem on the family meeting agenda so that a solution can be found at the next family meeting.”

Alfie Kohn is an American author and lecturer who is well-known for his critical views on traditional educational practices, standardized testing, and the use of rewards and punishments in motivating behavior, particularly in children. Kohn argues that rewards and punishments are forms of extrinsic motivation that can undermine intrinsic motivation, which he believes is more important for genuine engagement and long-term success.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation:
   – Intrinsic Motivation: This is the internal drive to do something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable. Kohn emphasizes the importance of nurturing intrinsic motivation for deeper learning and personal satisfaction.
   – Extrinsic Motivation: This refers to motivation driven by external rewards or pressures, such as grades, money, or praise. Kohn argues that relying on extrinsic motivation can reduce intrinsic motivation, leading to a decrease in genuine interest and engagement.

When people are rewarded for doing something, they may become less interested in the activity itself. This shifts the focus from the value of the task to the value of the reward. People may take the easiest route to achieve a reward rather than exploring innovative or high-quality solutions. Rewards often promote a focus on immediate gains rather than long-term benefits and learning.

In his book “Punished by Rewards,” Kohn argues that rewards and punishments are manipulative and can create a power dynamic that harms relationships and learning environments. He advocates for a move towards more collaborative and meaningful ways of engaging with others.

By prioritizing autonomy, mastery, purpose, and positive relationships, Kohn believes we can support deeper, more authentic forms of motivation and engagement.

Positive Discipline alternatives to Rewards and Punishments at home:

  1. Help kids enjoy the inner reward of feeling capable and making a contribution. Promote cooperation rather than competition. Examples:
    • Instead of rewards, ask the kids to put challenges on the family meeting agenda so that the whole family can be involved in finding solutions.
    • Ask for help. “I need your help right now. What are your ideas for respectful solutions?”
  2. Just like praise, most kids love rewards, just as they love candy. A little won’t hurt, but too much does not help kids develop intrinsic motivation.
  3. Building supportive and trusting relationships can create environments where people are motivated by mutual respect and a shared commitment to goals. Parents can focus on unconditional love and support, helping children find joy and satisfaction in their achievements rather than relying on praise and rewards.

Punished by rewards


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