Benefits/needs: At the most basic level of parenting, are benefits. Benefits are things that children should reasonably expect from a parent: food, shelter, clothing, love, encouragement, nurturing and compassion. Benefits aren’t earned or lost. Benefits are things children cannot provide for themselves or by themselves. Benefits are every child’s birthrights. Naturally each family system interpretsbenefits a little differently. And every family is more or less able to benefit their child. Surprisingly, however, most families are pretty unilateral about what they consider to be the benefits owed to children.
Gifts: Gifts are things that a parent does not owe to the child. Gifts are given out of love or generosity, not compulsion or need. A child does not earn gifts. There are no strings attached to gifts, either to the child or to the parent. Parents should not expect children to earn presents. And children should not expect parents to give presents. There is no issue of deserving or not deserving with a gift.
Prizes: Prizes are things that children win. Prizes are random and therefore impossible to earn. No control or choice affect the winning of a prize. Since no one has any idea who will win the prize, there should be no expectations involved. Prizes are given in lottery style.
Awards: Awards are a hybrid of prize and reward. Awards are earned, but they have a random nature also. Awards are earned based upon a competition amongst participants. The participant puts as much effort into his product, but success is tentative. Contests, sporting competitions, norm-referenced (high stakes) tests, merit-based pay and curved grading scales are examples of award systems. The award system is the only system in which there are winners and losers. In order for some to win, others must logically lose.
Rewards: rewards are defined as anything that must be earned. Rewards involve a cause and effect relationship, or an ‘if-then’ situation. Rewards must be a direct one-to-one correspondence. Rewardsare a sort of bargain or transaction. To earn a reward something positive must be done, or something negative refrained from. The key difference between rewards and all other given things is that the child has complete control over whether she earns the reward. It is completely her choice.
It’s obvious from these definitions, that it is important that children understand why they are receiving something. Children need to know how to earn a reward or receive an award. If something is earned by contest, it’s important to understand if the contest is a lottery prize or an earned award. Gifts should be understood as gifts, not benefits or rewards. Because our culture has skewed these concepts, ‘kids today’ reflect misunderstandings in their thinking. Kids today aren’t lazier or more selfish. Kids today don’t have a poor work ethic. Kids today are misinformed and have been confused by us adults. Getting these concepts straight as adults helps us discipline our children properly.
Look for my upcoming articles that explain more about the interaction of rewards, awards, prizes, gifts and benefits in parenting, education and child development.
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