Disciplining with Rewards and Punishments, by Craig B. Wiener, Ed.D.

Most ADHD therapies recommend that you change your child’s behavior by imposing a strict system of controls. The thought is that only this kind of stringent parenting will keep your child from the chaos that ADHD generates.

No doubt, disciplining in that fashion works quickly. It’s easy to do, and all parents know that stringency is sometimes necessary to protect a child. Yes, coercion—disciplining with rewards and punishments—has a significant role in child rearing, but it has some downsides worth considering.

Problems and Concerns

When you manage your child’s behavior, using special incentives and penalties, things will seem fine as long as there is no controversy and your child keeps earning the rewards you control. He may even be happy that he is getting something extra for showing the behaviors that you expect. But this kind of coercion can be problematic when it’s the primary way to socialize within a family.

For example, research shows that connecting a bribe to an activity will reduce a child’s interest in doing the activity when the bribe is removed. This means that once you introduce a reward system, you must keep doing it, to avoid a significant drop in performance. Your discipline increases your child’s desire to obtain the reward and makes the work seem less enjoyable.

Any reward system that you control is also limited by the extent of your personal involvement. You want your child to be successful without you, but an invented system of rewards and punishments trains compliance only under supervision. You will not be able to monitor every action that your child takes, and so you will not have influence over him sometimes. Sadly, this will increasingly be the case as your child grows older and spends more time away from you.

But that’s not all. What happens when your consequence is not strong enough to outweigh the hassle of meeting the expectation? For example, it’s just not worth it to lug the trash outside when it’s snowing just to get another star on the chart. Many children recognize this problem, and it’s common for them to resist until the bribe or threat is increased. Your relationship spirals into a power struggle.

There are other problems as well. Some children may stop liking a reward so that you cannot pressure them. Some may become overly concerned about unwanted consequences and develop anxiety. Some may stop telling you what they like so that you cannot use it to “pull their strings”. Some may lie or sneak to beat the system.  And sometimes failure to obtain a privilege makes little difference to children as long as they remain in the center of your concerns.

As you can see, when your purpose is to create discomfort or give something extra to get your child to obey, you are teaching your child to overpower rather than to cooperate. He sees you trying to force submission, and he duplicates the same behavior to gain authority over you. You take away what he wants, so he takes away what you want.

Even if it means putting himself in jeopardy, he may find a way to gain the upper hand. You pressure him to be more productive, and he learns ways to get you to reduce your expectations. He tries to outmaneuver you, and you work to close the loopholes. You end up struggling for dominance, and your child is not learning to self-manage. Empathy, attending to each other’s perspective, scratching each other’s back, and finding a middle ground are often set aside when you get into this arrangement.

 

An Alternative

So ask yourself, does my child really need extra payment or the threat of a “time out” to achieve or to be kind and honest? Do you want him to agree to cooperate and help out only if he gets something extra in the deal, or do you want him to derive pleasure from building a caring relationship with you? Even if the reward is spending time together, do you really want to turn your time with each other into a business deal or make it an obligation? Of course not.

With all of these potential side effects, let’s take a different approach. You can focus your child on the ultimate reason to cooperate and develop himself: he will have happier, more fruitful experiences if he is kind and skillful. There is no reason to distract him from this powerful motive. Your child needs no other incentive. Lack of connection with others and lack of competence are the most potent negative consequences, and inclusion and knowledge are the most wanted treasures. The key is to learn how to nurture those behaviors for your child with ADHD.

Craig B. Wiener, EdD, is the author of Parenting Your Child with ADHD
and a licensed psychologist and faculty member in the department of family medicine and community health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. For almost thirty years, he has been working with many individuals diagnosed with ADHD in his private practice. 

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom.
A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom’s view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

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Related posts:

adhd behavior problems, behavior modification, motivation, parenting/FAMILY, rewards and consequences ·

About the author

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom. A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom's view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

5 Comments

  1. Susan S. says:

    Rewards charts have never worked with my son. A bribe once in a while will work. But he has been raised using the tools and philosophy taught by Jane Nelsen and her Positive Discipline series of books, videos, audios, DVD’s and workshops http://store.positivediscipline.com/about-positive-discipline.html . I was lucky enough to be introduced to PD when my son was 14 mos. old. And discovered a class given locally. Their focus is for children to learn to become internally motivated to do what they need to do, over time. Using external rewards may work for a little while, but it never works for the long haul.

    Reply
  2. Christine says:

    I never looked at it this way before. Thank you for the fresh perspective.

    Reply
  3. keira says:

    I SO completely agree with this, and it is EVERYTHING i have ever wanted to be able to do.. but HOW…”The key is to learn how to nurture those behaviors for your child with ADHD.” how??? i can’t figure out how!?!? any ideas? i will check out the link from Susan too! thanks!!!!!

    Reply
    • guest says:

      There are lot’s of good ways presented in Craig Wieners book Parenting Your Child with ADHD (linked in the article.) that can help you and your child to learn these behaviors. I would say that you should try to use positive reinforcement rather than punishments or rewards. Praise the good things that are done rather than discouraging the bad. Tell your child what a great job they did on their chores and eventually they will do them because it’s a good thing to do, rather than because they will be rewarded.

      Reply
  4. Discipline and rewards never worked for us.What has worked for us is relentless teaching with strict parameters. Has that worked? Better than discipline/rewards. He’s 17 now, so we are starting to see the cumulative effect of the education/help. And…he’s still VERY adhd 🙂

    Reply

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