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  • Writer's pictureAnie


Rewards. Punishments. Carrots and sticks.

Ultimately, external motivation for achievement or behavior generally backfires. The carrot no longer entices (or is no longer offered) and the punishment no longer deters. External motivation tends not to develop the same long lasting motivation that internal desires drive.

Instead of sticker charts, rewards or punishments, we strive to encourage intrinsic motivation for behaviors. I *thought* we were doing ok in this department...until we lost power.

“I CAN’T do my reading because I get to watch a show after my reading and I can’t watch my show if we don’t have power.”

Ummm...come again?? No, but really I had to pause for a minute before responding. This was NEVER an established thing. Reading work was our hardest for awhile. Our biggest point of contention in our homeschooling rhythm. So as a solution, we agreed we would do reading snuggled on the couch, first thing in the morning. We would “get it out of the way, before we even started the day.”

A natural rhythm to create self-discipline and a strategy to accomplish hard I thought.

Yet, here we were with the belief that he gets to watch TV as a reward for finishing reading. So how exactly did we get here?

We established this rhythm to “get it out of the way, before we start our day.” It just so happens that before we established this, he enjoyed watching a show in the morning. So usually (but not always) he chooses to watch a show after reading because that’s how he likes to start his day. But it wasn’t a one for one reward that I granted him. But yet he still internalized that reading=TV.

I reminded him:

We do reading first because it’s a priority in our day. It was really hard for us to accomplish for awhile, so it was easier and mentally better for you to “get it out of the way, before we start our day.” It just so happens that starting your day is often a show. But it could be legos, cars, drawing, or even a walk outside. In fact, we can start our day any way we choose. And without power, that has to be without a show. (With a tag on mini lesson that there are children in the world who have never even seen a TV. We could not have a TV and you would still need to do reading.)

Cue the slightly disappointed “ohhhhhh” moment.

But I was disappointed too. This moment sat with me for awhile. I never established this reward yet here we were with TV as a reward for reading. But then I took a deep breath and a step back. And the reality is THIS is EXACTLY what I’ve been aiming for. I didn’t implement this. We had a problem. We came up with a solution (get it out of the way, before we start our day). The rest was his own self-motivation. I never offered TV as a carrot. I never took TV away on mornings we didn’t read (and there have been mornings we didn’t read for one reason or another and so we just move on to starting our day.)

Ultimately isn’t this what I want him to learn?

He can do hard things. If he starts with the hardest thing the rest is a bit easier and he doesn’t have to dread it all day. There are rewards in daily rhythms, in completing necessary tasks before we “play.”

Isn’t this a tool we use even as adults? Tricks we weave into our day to make menial tasks a bit more rewarding?

And if I really think about it, doesn’t no power elicit a shift in the daily rhythm anyway? Doesn’t it maybe warrant a “day off”? After all wouldn’t school be closed if they didn’t have power?

So we held off on reading. We started our out of routine day flushing toilets with buckets, finding pantry items for breakfast, and asking a friend to bring coffee. And we did reading in the afternoon, at my sister’s house, where there also happened to be a TV and power...

Some further reading/resources:

Risks of Rewards:

Developing An Inner Compass:

Motivating Children Without Rewards:

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