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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My Take on Rewards & Punishments

Last week I went to the Unconditional Parenting—Beyond Bribes and Threats presentation by Alfie Kohn held at the San Jose Events Center.  I had heard about it through our school’s PTA.   It was promoted as a great opportunity to see this well-known educator who has been featured on Oprah and has published numerous parenting books.

Honestly, I had never heard of him.  But given the Oprah connection and the sheer number of books he has written, I thought it would be good to listen to his take on parenting.  I was intrigued to hear his approach and was hoping I would receive concrete examples of alternative methods to bribes and threats.   I must admit, that I am the queen of bribes (I like to think of them as rewards) and have been known to put my kids in a time out or two and quite frankly I never really thought of these as poor parenting methods. 

Well, after listening to Alfie's presentation I am certain I would not win Parent of the Year in his book. I am not so sure that I agree with his philosophy that bribes and threats are harmful.  I don’t see rewards as ultimately sending a message to my kids that they are only lovable when they please me.  I feel that rewards can be a motivator and a way to show my appreciation for my kids’ accomplishments.   I think it is o.k. to dangle a carrot (every once awhile) in order to get my kids to finish something, to try something new, or do their work.   I think the key is using rewards judiciously.

As far as punishments go, I can’t say I agree that I’m creating “temporary compliance.”   And if I am, is that so bad?  Sometimes, a time out is necessary, when my 8 year old son is having a tantrum or misbehaving.  I feel that this gives him an opportunity to cool off or to think about what he has done.   I don’t feel like he is being “sent into exile” when he needs me most.   I always go in and talk to him about whatever incident made him end up in his room and how things could have been handled differently.

Although I enjoyed his presentation and found him to be very entertaining, I didn't feel as though he offered any alternatives to bribes and threats. What I did walk away with was  some  helpful parenting advice.  His "working with" approach was a great reminder that as parents we need to be flexible and creative in how we interact with our children.  He reminded me that I don't need to be so rigid with my rules, that sometimes I can say "yes" even when my initial reaction is to say "no."   That sometimes, it is better to ask than to tell and that imagining how things look from my child's point of view could uncover things I might not have seen.  

All and all, I left the presentation with a few parenting nuggets.  I even had an "Alfie" moment last week, when my kids decided that they wanted to go swimming after school.  Instead of expounding on all the reasons they shouldn't, I just let them jump into that frigid water.  It didn't last long, but they had a great time.  

I guess the  beauty of parenting is we all have our different styles and philosophies and we are all on this journey together.  We read books, we solicit advice from friends, we go to lectures and we pull together an amalgamation of philosophies to create our own style that works for us and for our children.  And (fingers crossed) our efforts help to shape and raise happy, well-adjusted, independent, self-confident human beings.




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