May Not be the Best Motivator -Especially if You're Family
Kathie F. Nunley
parents, we've been told that punishments are ineffective as teaching
tools. But what about reinforcers? Psychological research also tells
us to be very careful in how we use reinforcers. They can damage the
intrinsic motivation of our children.
are all reinforcers bad? Can some be used more safely than others? It
sounds like great theory that all children should be intrinsically motivated
to do good, obey their elders, and respect parents and teachers. But
the reality is that sometimes children need a little help to move in
the right direction. Many of us choose to use reinforcers for help.
Used sparingly and carefully, reinforcers can be a great aid to parents
and teachers alike. However, money should probably never be used as
a reinforcer, particularly by parents. Money may not actually even be
a reinforcer. And if it is, it is a very complicated one.
funny that money may not be a reinforcer? At first glance most of us
would say of course money is a motivator and a reinforcer. Why, just
look at the adult world. Most of us work for money. If they quit paying
you for what you do, how many of you would continue to work? Certainly
at the school where I teach, I dare say few teachers would remain if
the salaries were removed. So at first glance, it appears we are motivated
by money. But we need to look further.
we truly working for the money or does the money allow us to work? Most
of us enjoy our work. I very much enjoy teaching. I teach for the love
of it. If I was paid more, I wouldn't teach any harder. The fact is
I teach as best I can now, regardless of the money. So why is it that
I would not continue to teach if the money were removed? Not because
the money was gone, but because I would now need to go find something
else to do to replace the missing money. Money is required for me to
live. I need to eat, feed and clothe my children and put a reasonable
roof over our heads. That's the bottom line. So by providing that (in
the form of a paycheck) I can continue to do what I enjoy doing and
that is to teach. Therefore I teach because I enjoy it. The suggestion
that I'd teach better if I was paid more is insulting. I am the very
best teacher I can be because I love teaching and care for children
and their future. I appreciate the fact that a salary is provided so
that I can take care of the needs of my family which allows me to continue
of us would be insulted by being paid for something we do for the sheer
joy of it or love for another. If I spent the day preparing a delightful
candlelight dinner for two for my husband and myself, I do that out
of the love I have for him. He would degrade that act, if at the end
of the dinner, he thanked my with a 20 dollar tip.
a big snow storm, I often shovel the walkway around my house and my
neighbor's house. She has a brand new baby and I understand the inconvenience
of having to juggle that responsibility and shovel snow. So I feel better
about our close and caring neighborhood by shoveling her walk along
with my own so that she doesn't have to. I don't expect a thank you
from her. As a mother of four, I remember the tough days of having a
newborn. That's part of belonging to a human community -doing things
out of care and love for others. What would be the effect if my neighbor
gave me cash as a thanks. How would I feel. Degraded? Insulted? Misunderstood?
All of the above.
is important. Most all of us certainly enjoy it. A lot. It buys us necessities
and luxuries. We like to feel like there is a relationship between our
efforts and labor and the lifestyle we can afford. But money as a reinforcer
is usually inappropriate. It can even be dangerous in that it may unintentionally
insult the person we are giving it to. When acts are done out of kindness,
concern and love, the rewards are intrinsic. We enjoy the feeling we
get from doing for others. Money reduces that feeling and often changes
it from a positive feeling to a negative one.
what's a parent to do? If you have established a trend of money for
grades or money for following rules, you may want to reexamine the act.
You may try acknowledging the hard work and effort with an in-kind act
of your own, such as a trip to a favorite restaurant. Or try a mini-vacation,
just the two of you to spend some special one-on-one time together.
Maybe concert tickets to share or surprise them by hand-washing their
car or cleaning their room for a change. Human acts of love can be thanked
with other acts of love and maintain their integrity. Even a hug, a
kiss and a kind word can enrich the relationship. Money may say you
misread the intent.
for Further Reading:
The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
by Daniel Pink.
We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation
by Edward Deci
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F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher and speaker
living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the Layered Curriculum®
method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has authored several books and articles
on teaching in mixed-ability classrooms and other problems facing today's
teachers. Full references and additional teaching and parental tips
are available at: http://Help4Teachers.com Email her:
Kathie (at) brains.org
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