What is Rewards and Punishment doing to our children?

Rashmi Gupta and Nikhil Gupta @ Nurturing Souls
Let us reflect upon another important part of our own upbringing and which many of us use while raising our children – Rewards and Punishment. Whether it is about performing in a simple function in social event or performance in academics or driving or changing a particular behavior or encouraging someone to perform and deliver better (and the list goes on), we all link them to rewards and punishments. It starts very early soon after the child starts to understand the reflexes and continues till the end of our life. Have we ever pondered over following questions –

1. How and where we have used reward and punishment as a mechanism to drive behavior or an agenda and what was our experience?
2. Why do we seek approval and validation from others or why do our children need our approval and validation? What has been our experience of these approvals and what has it done to us and our children?
3. Why do we reward and punish and what does it do to us and our children?
Unfortunately we have been accustomed to going by the knowledge available and based on that knowledge we decide what is right and what is wrong. Anything that is not right or up to the mark according to us, we try to make it right or up to the mark based on the knowledge available with us and for that we reward/punish. While it may give short term results in some cases, it is killing the natural intelligence of human beings and his / her own ability to find what is right. Surely sometimes we get stuck with the problems which we don’t know how to deal with and we want to make it right with the help of knowledge available. eg a child being in the habit of eating too much sweet. To get her rid of the habit of eating too much sweet (because we know through the knowledge available, eating too much sweet will lead to health problems) we start getting into reward and punishment. Though we may achieve the objective here, we have to think very hard that isn’t it moulding the child to do every act based on rewards and punishment? It gets so ingrained and deep into the human psychology that none of our actions remain without looking at the outcome of that action in the form of reward or punishment. And when it happens, it brings fear of consequences. Fear doesn’t let us deliver our best and also leaves us completely exhausted.
This practice of reward and punishment has gone to the extent where nowadays we don’t even educate our child without thinking about the reward i.e, so called successful career (as defined by society and us) child is going to pursue. We ourselves are the product of rewards and punishment and the same we are doing with our children.
Lets also understand why do we seek approval/validation and why child keeps looking at us for validation on everything she does. We do seek approval as our natural intelligence has diminished because of all reasons mentioned above and the same is being observed by the child and every time the child comes for approval or validation and we do the same. Through this process, more we reaffirm more the child thinks that the only way to be right and happy in life is through the affirmation of parents and others. Can we see the entire cycle that we have got the child into? We ourselves are conditioned to act only based on rewards and punishment. The same we are doing with the child and the cycle goes on. It may help us being in the position of authority but the moot question here is; what makes us deserve to be in the position of authority when we ourselves are so heavily conditioned. If it is just a matter of ensuring that children are always in control and tamed then probably it will not lead them to grow & flourish as human beings who are intelligent, integrated, sensitive and compassionate (in fact it creates bipolar behaviors in them and makes them live a very artificial life).
Now let’s see few examples which many of us do ourselves in daily life.
1. Naughty corners / punishment zones for not listening to us – especially in young children
2. Offering chocolates/treats for getting good marks, for reciting poems in front of guests, for helping us in household chores or for doing anything meeting/exceeding our expectations
3. Losing our temper when child commits a mistake
4. Not taking up our passion/interest areas as our career because the returns in that field don’t seem lucrative enough
5. Subjects are chosen based on the rewarding career they offer
6. Being stressful with the child who is not getting the high marks in high school classes only because his or her rewarding career seems at risk
7. All our actions are based on the affirmation from our spouse, boss and many others around us
Let’s take an example of the child who has to keep his room clean and tidy as there is a strict rule in the house and there are consequences for not keeping the room clean. He might continue to keep his room tidy till he is with his parents but once he steps out, there could be a dim chance of following the same practice. Cleaning the room for the child may be futile without any apparent benefits or fear of something. While on the other hand, a child who is continuously shared the importance of being neat and tidy (without any consequences), he will behave in same manner whether inside the house or in any other setting. Talking to children and exploring together (so that we ourselves also learn) is a long & tedious process but that is the only way.
This example is from the area where we may say that there is no question of us being conditioned as keeping ourselves and our surroundings tidy is a universally accepted fact. But there are many other examples where we may be rewarding or punishing the child for the things that we may perceive to be right based on our own conditioning but they are far from truth. Let us reflect how much damage we may end up doing to our children rather than awakening and keeping their natural intelligence alive.