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March 12, 2009


Dyan Eybergen

Thank you for the thoughful review. I appreciate your opinions and am sorry that you felt I judged your parenting style with regards to using reward systems. It would never be my intent to judge anyone for how they choose to parent. Out of the Mouths of Babes does not promise to give parents answers to childrearing challenges. It is a collection of stories from my own experience on how I learned to parent my children in an intuitive way. It is a guidebook that hopefully provides insight into the minds of young children. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and only hope it gives enjoyment to other's parenting journey.

I respect that you may not agree with me and that is okay, you know your children best and know what works for them. I did want to take the opportunity however, if I may, to clarify my opinion on the use of rewards - so that it does not appear so judgemental.

I talk about the use of reward systems in Out of the Mouths as a means of controlling behaviour to teach a child a new skill as being harmful to a child's overall well being and self-esteem. (The key words I use are: to teach a new skill.) In the chapter on toilet training I state the opinion that offering children rewards to get them to use the toilet can cause children to feel inadequate when they want to learn to go potty but for whatever reason cannot meet the expectations of their parents and a reward is not given.

I think that when we are teaching children new skills we need to be mindful that it is a process that is largely contingent on how the child processes information and whether or not he is physiologically or emotionally ready to learn something new and all of that varies from individual to individual child. A reward can backfire on a child who is not ready or his learning is hindered by something else that might be going on.

A recent example to help make my point is that my 5 year old son came home from day care the other day in tears saying "I'm a stupid boy, I can't read so the teacher didn't give me any treats." The children were given hearts with little messages on them and were asked to read them aloud. If they got it right the paper heart was replaced with a candy one. My son is probably exhibiting signs and symptoms similar to his older brother who has been diagnosed with a severe reading disorder -- time will tell. So, as it happened, he couldn't read the paper hearts and therefore didn't receive any candy treats. I was the one who had to deal with the aftermath of what a well meaning teacher was trying to do by using rewards to entice him to learn to read. My son recognizes his under-achievement and has measured it against his classmates. He knows that he is lagging behind -- all he had to do was count how many treats everyone else got and compare it to the zero he received. What he doesn't understand is why this happening - he is only 5 and too young to be diagnosed with a reading disorder. And maybe it's not a learning disability, maybe my son learns differently and certainly at a different pace. So this example of using reward systems to teach a new skill worked well for the kids who are not struggling with learning to read, it reinforced their desire to learn more (perhaps) - but what about the boy who is struggling- I don't think it helped him to learn to read any better or faster -- in fact now he is saying reading is stupid and he doesn't want to learn and thinks of himself as a dumb kid! I can't have my child going through life thinking he is unworthy because some teacher didn't give him a candy because he was unable to read something. If the reward was never offered, he would have been less under the microscope and not have to sit through his classmates enjoying their treats while he sat in humiliation with none. He already knows he is lagging begind - he's quite intuitive - he didn't need help to feel inadequate, this situation only made him feel worse.

In the chapter on Discipline I revisit the idea of using rewards and when they are not being used to teach a new skill or control behaviour - I actually think that the use of rewards can be a very useful tool in terms of providing a nurturing environment and reinforcing positive behaviour. Reward your children for behaving well! When we go on a long trip and everyone gets along in the back of the car I might just stop and get everyone a treat. But I don't use it as a threat to have them behave properly. I don't say "if you get along I'll buy you a treat". I do it when they show me they can get along. And I don't always reward with tangible things either. Sometimes I just thank them for making the trip an enjoyable one - which is reward enough.

I like your blog - well done. You provide a great service to parents.

Kind Regards,
Dyan Eybergen
Author: Out of the Mouths of Babes

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