Is it really possible to raise kids without using rewards and punishments? Today, we are delighted to have permission to publish a guest article on this subject by Kathy Weber of Herzenssache. Kathy Weber is a qualified trainer in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) according to Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg. She works with attachment pedagogy approaches.
Guest blog article:
“Well done, what a great job.”
“If you put on your shoes, you can have some candy.”
“You’re so clumsy!”
“If you don’t come now, I’m going home without you!”
“I’m counting to 3! 1-2-3!”
Reward and punishment are an inherent part of our society. For thousands of years, parents of children and educators who are responsible for them have praised the kids for desired behavior and penalized them for unwanted behavior.
However, it is possible to do away with this using the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) approach as per Dr. Marshall Rosenberg.
Why reward and punishment negatively affects children:
- It reinforces competitiveness in children. Our children are exposed to constant competitive thinking.
- You don’t find out what’s really going on inside your child and how they are doing. You lose connection, understanding, closeness, and a great deal more.
- The curiosity to find new solutions is nipped in the bud and the stimulus to advocate for oneself is lost.
- Our child grows up in a dominant environment, learning that the strongest one wins! In this way, we are encouraging them to strive for power.
Reward and punishment entail a system of extrinsic behavioral motivation.
This means that children only act with the goal of receiving praise or a reward – or they just refrain from doing something for fear of punishment.
In NVC, what we want is for children to act out of intrinsic behavioral motivation. We want to encourage them to do things for themselves – to be connected to their needs and take pleasure in certain acts. And also, to willingly contribute to the well-being of the community.
It is a basic premise of NVC:
Every person has an interest in contributing to the well-being of the community.
Children are social beings who want to coexist with other people. They look for ways to please themselves and please others.
So with NVC, for example, we want to encourage a child to take out the trash because they want to contribute to the good of the family and to have the choice to do it or not. We want them to play football for the joy of playing, etc.
What is the alternative to reward and punishment?
Would you like to build a relationship with your child that is marked out by love, trust, respect, understanding and being at their eye level? Then it pays to do away with the concept of reward and punishment and take a different approach!
Reward and punishment are used where there is a lack of trust.Trust in people’s voluntary nature and the nature of people to give willingly. This means that children are forced to do something that they would in principle give voluntarily.
The result is a well-functioning person instead of a person who is really living.
What is punishment?
People punish others with pain, shame or guilt.
Parents may administer a little physical pain to their child so that the child does what the punisher wants. Or they may give some sort of warning, such as:
“Be aware that this is the line and you’ve crossed it!”
Punishing with shame or guilt is effectively a kind of emotional violence. For example, phrases such as
“You are so clumsy!”
“You always get here too late!”
For one thing, the child then thinks it is actually true – they are simply clumsy. A further consequence is that they will soon treat others that way too, for example, using phrases like
“You’re not my friend anymore!”
Do I have to behave correctly in order to receive love?
No – I want to be loved because I am who I am!
What are feelings of guilt?
Now let’s talk about guilt.
“Now Mom is really sad because you’re not coming.”
So the child is to believe that the mother is sad because they are not coming, i.e. they are not doing what the mother wants. The child is being held responsible for the feelings of the mother.
Another basic premise of NVC is:
Each person is responsible for their own feelings!
What is reward?
Just like a punishment, a reward can also create fear, guilt and feelings of shame.
We are rewarded because somebody else thinks that we have done something correctly or well. In the long run, we develop the idea that we have to live up to these expectations. This can result in enormous pressure and fear of failure, or blaming ourselves if we don’t succeed at something. Or we can feel ashamed of our inability to do something.
Do we “have to” or “want to” do something?
“There are some things in life you just have to do!”
I hear that often at this point. You could see it like that. However, I see it like this: There is a need underlying everything I do. If I work it out and get it clear in my mind, the “have to” is eliminated!
Here is an example:
“I have to work!”
Why do you work? Because financial security is important to you? Because progress is important to you? Because you enjoy it? When you recognize the need underlying your actions, the “have to” is eliminated.
How parents can pass on their values without reward and punishment
The younger your child is, the more they depend on you, your values and your view of life and can learn from you. In the course of your child’s life, the goal is for them develop and live by their very own values.
You can see yourself as your child’s guide and also as their mirror.
This means that the very first thing you can do is make yourself aware of your own values that you would like to represent right now.
Another basic premise of NVC is this:
Anybody can change their mind at any time!
Each family has their own order when it comes to values.
For some, it may look like this:
In other families, it may look like this:
- Healthy eating
Now in the NVC world, we do not want to use reward and punishment to pass on these values. We want to preserve them and to do this in a sensitive and caring way. As parents, we can do this by representing and advocating our values and the values of our family, society, preschool, school and nature.
So as long as your child is under your responsibility and you observe that they are crossing one of your boundaries, you can – instead of punishing them – find out what motives are underlying THEIR behavior.
Try to understand what is behind it.
How parents can understand what their children want to say
This brings us on to another basic premise of NVC:
Whatever a child says or does, they are trying to satisfy a certain need.
It’s clear that children live according to example. As I always say: Treat others as you would like to be treated. So, set an example to your children of living by your values and do not make any exceptions for them. This applies whether it’s a matter of self-care, our dealings with nature, with money or even with our fellow human beings.
At the same time, have the trust that your child will undertake what is right for them and develop their own values.
Most important of all is your attitude!
Instead of motivating or forcing a child, we want to make connection. And the basic premises of NVC help you with that.
In practice, you also need the NVC technique, that is, the following 4 steps:
- The please/thank you/celebrate
An alternative to reward
A possible alternative to reward is appreciation!
“You’re a good gymnast!”
- Observation: You have just turned a cartwheel.
- Feeling: Wow, I’m very happy
- Need: and I take great pleasure in seeing how you do it!
- I celebrate it!
“You’ve just turned a cartwheel. Wow, I’m very happy because I take great pleasure in seeing how you do it.”
An alternative to punishment
Is it possible for everyday family life to not include punishment? Yes. Indeed, with
“If you don’t come out of the bathtub now, I’m not going to read you a bedtime story!”
- Situation: “You want to stay in the bathtub.”
- “It’s so comfy, isn’t it?”
- Need: “And you’re really enjoying playing with the foam right now, aren’t you?
At the same time, I want you to come out now so that we still have time to read and cuddle.”
- “Are you ready to come out of the tub?”
- If the reply is a yes, then that’s the end of the situation. If the reply is a no, more empathy is needed: “You’re really having so much fun right now in the tub – you love having a bath, don’t you?”
Perhaps your child is more the do-it-yourself type? Find out which need your child is meeting right now with their behavior
“I’m glad to see how much fun you’re having in the bath! At the same time, reading and cuddling with you is really important to me. Are you ready to read and cuddle?”
And so on!
Why is it worth doing away with reward and punishment?
Why is it so important to dispense with reward and punishment?
For the following reasons:
- Because our kids will then not need the recognition of others to feel OK with themselves
- Because it allows them to stay curious and learn unhindered
- Because they then develop trust and try it out
- Because then it is the process that becomes important rather than the goal
- Because then the stereotyped thinking is dropped and our children learn that each person is unique as they are
- Because our children are motivated after a failure to find other ways
- And for many other reasons!
If you are feeling under stress now or condemning yourself for things that you’ve said or done –
I’d like to invite you into a world without reward and punishment and with absolutely no pressure!
Marshall Rosenberg, who developed NVC, once said: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”
In this sense, start, give it a go, really enjoy it and be gracious with yourself and your environment!
Would you like to find out more about this topic and use NVC to make your everyday family life more enjoyable and enrich your relationship with your children?
You can find all the info about my NVC courses, advice, and first NVC podcast for parents here.
I look forward to talking with you.