There is a lot of proof that positive reinforcement works way better with people than negative reinforcement. For instance, when a two-year-old picks up her toys, praising her is going to make her realize how good it feels to act in such a manner. When a two-year-old doesn’t pick up her toys, belittling her is less likely to get that response. In either event, let’s take a look at the biggest danger of them all. “If, then” rewards.
“If you are a good boy, then I will get you some ice cream.” Incentivizing what is supposed to be normal, rational, and good behavior is not a great long-term plan. In fact, it’s not really a good short-term plan. So you’re thinking, it worked, but did it?
Many times I hear these rewards offered and the person offered the reward still doesn’t uphold their end of the bargain.
The person who did the offering usually follows through on delivering the prize or else the rewarded has one thing on their mind. Ice cream. If that doesn’t happen things are far more likely to get worse. Even better? The definition of being a “good boy” is far different for an adult than it is for a two-year-old.
Also, the person who offered the reward just caves and gives in because it is easier or they feel mean if they don’t. The lesson learned to the rewarded? Every time I do something, I should and will get something.
The proof if real. Over fifteen years of having worked with thousands of children, many kids expect something for doing nothing (well, essentially nothing). It’s the “everyone gets a lollipop” mentality and it’s dangerous. When people grow up and don’t get what they want, they throw tantrums. They protest. They scream and cry it’s unfair. “I did something, but what did I get?!” Nothing. Sometimes you just get nothing.
So the next time the two-year-old hears, “If you get your shoes on like a good girl you can have this toy,” know that what a two-year-old heard is, “Here, have this toy.” When her task is accomplished and you take the toy away, she’s going to be ticked.