Sunday, January 24, 2010

Explicit rewards versus love

One of the things that comes up repeatedly when Parentonomics is discussed on the Internet and in print is the appropriateness of using economic rewards or explicit incentives to engender good behaviour out of children. One set of misconceptions is that Parentonomics is some ode to the effectiveness of those incentives but that usually is the impression of those who haven't actually read it. Indeed, it is properly construed as the opposite. But what troubles me more is the alternative notion that parents should use love or affection rather than clear sticks and carrots to generate good behaviour. That notion seems very dangerous.

Here is the most recent statement of that by a Maine pediatrician, Dr William Wilkoff (who by the way objects to economic rewards having just read a review of Parentonomics and not the actual book):
However, there are some palpable rewards that work magnificently. All of us crave attention and approval. Hugs, pats on the head, cuddling on the couch, and uninterrupted lap time are rewards that one can’t buy at the dollar store. But they can be powerful incentives for a toddler. The challenge is to make these acts of love apparently unconditional ... and to make the time to give them.

Telling a child, “If you behave, you can have a hug or sit in my lap” has a hollow ring that every child can hear. However, silently “rewarding” a child with extra hugs and cuddles during those windows of good behavior can have magical powers. As you know, helping parents understand this power and then showing them how to find the opportunities to use it is one of the most difficult tasks for a primary care pediatrician.

"The challenge is to makes these acts of love apparently unconditional" !!!! So let us be clear. Dr Wilkoff realises that a child should not perceive a parent's love to be conditional but thinks you can subtly punish a child with less affection and they will realise that their behaviour is not approved of and change. And people accuse me of being touch and cold-hearted. This is not only an attempt to have your cake and eat it too but surely if it is works it is really really troubling for that is going to mean in later life. Give me an explicit time-out over this anyday.