Rewards, Incentives, Cosequences and Punishments

Katherine - posted on 09/11/2010 ( 5 moms have responded )




Some great and insightful info.

At a recent API meeting, a few moms asked questions about the differences between rewards and punishments which I thought was very useful. We hadn’t specifically discussed them before, and it was helpful to define our understanding of the words we often hear regarding discipline. Based on attachment parenting, positive discipline, and unconditional parenting, here is the break-down:

Rewards vs. Incentives:

A reward is something that is given conditionally; you only get X if you do Y. An incentive is letting someone know of an enjoyable activity that is soon to come. As soon as Y is done, X happens. The difference here is that enjoyable thing (X) happens even if the behavior leading up to it wasn’t perfect. It’s unconditional.

For example, a mom always gives her son a snack when they drive somewhere, but sometimes there’s a struggle actually getting him into his car seat. Because having a snack in the car is something they do every day, the snack is not the reward for getting into the car seat; it’s the incentive. She reminds her son that, “After everyone gets buckled in our seats, we have a snack.” That’s the order of events, and something he can look forward to after getting in his seat. She wouldn’t withhold the snack if, despite her best efforts, there was still struggling and crying about getting into the car seat. Her son is hungry and he needs it; it’s snack time.

But, if she were to withhold the snack because her son didn’t get in his seat as willingly and peacefully as she wanted, that would be a punishment. If the snack were applied conditionally like this, it would have been a reward if it were given (and a bribe when it was first mentioned).

The difference between reward and incentive lies in the intent of the administrator.

It is also helpful to clarify the distinction between natural consequences, logical consequences, and punishments:

Natural consequence–Anything that would happen completely naturally in a situation. You didn’t eat your dinner so you are hungry at bedtime.

Logical consequence–An imposed consequence that “fits” with the circumstances. You didn’t eat the dinner that was made for you, so you must make yourself some food if you don’t want to go to bed hungry.

Punishment–Not a consequence of the situation at all, but something unrelated imposed specifically for the purpose of making someone unhappy. You didn’t eat the dinner I made for you, so you must go to your room.

For parents endeavoring in positive discipline, we choose incentives over bribes and rewards, and natural and logical consequences over punishments. They are more effective than their counterparts in helping a child learn, as the parent-child relationship is not devalued, and they help a child develop intrinsic motivation.


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Minnie - posted on 09/13/2010




Another good parenting resource is LLL. Every LLL area holds conferences each year. They offer numerous sessions on everything to do with living a healthy lifestyle to discipline (teaching your little ones), breastfeeding, etc.

I find myself having to explain what discipline is as well, and that natural and logical consequences are vastly different than punishment. I like the explanation of the difference between an incentive and rewards as well.

Natural and logical consequeces and incentives respect the child's person, whereas punishments and bribes really lower a child to less than human.

Katherine - posted on 09/12/2010




Geralyn, you can attend telesminars through the API link I posted. To become a member it's $9. I think I might do it. I'm sure they tell you what areas the seminars are in too.

Brenda - posted on 09/12/2010




Very well explained. I find myself having to explain, again and again both in a professional sense and to other parents, what the difference is between rewards/punishment and why punishment doesn't work. Positive reinforcement and incentives usually work best. :)

Katherine - posted on 09/12/2010




Argh, I should have posted the link! No I have never attended API meetings, but I am a Psychology major with a concentration in behavior modification.

Geralyn - posted on 09/12/2010




Katherine, do you attend regular API meetings? I was thinking about looking into them in my area... It'd be so helpful on issues like this to be able to talk it through with a group of AP moms.... BTW great info...

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