Should we reward our kids for every achievement?

My son came home from his swimming lesson a few weeks ago feeling very proud of himself.

‘Dad! I broke my record, AND, I got onto the 50m freestyle board!’

Weekly time-trials are a big deal at his swim school, and I think it teaches the kids some amazing lessons about working towards their goals, and also about dealing with the disappointment of not being able to improve every week.

‘What do I get for doing that dad?’, was what came next. I asked him what he meant. ‘Well, how much are you going to give me for breaking my record AND getting onto a new board?’

Cue a ‘look’ from the wife. Up until recently I was shelling out R5 for every new record, which is something that I just did without thinking about it too much, but on reflection, it’s something that my wife pointed out I don’t actually agree with!

‘I’m going to give you a high five! And then you’re going to get to feel good about yourself for achieving your goals my boy!’

‘Oh. But I thought I was going to get two R5’s’.

‘And if it wasn’t for the R5, would you still have worked so hard to break your record? What’s better, to work hard at your swimming because it makes you a better swimmer, or to work hard at your swimming to get your R5? Do you need the R5 to feel good about yourself and what you’ve achieved? How long will the R5 last you compared to how long feeling good about yourself will last you?’

He thought about it for a couple of seconds. ‘No, I don’t really need the R5 to feel good about myself. I just like to be a faster swimmer. It makes me feel good inside and proud of myself. And I would still want to do my best even if I don’t get R5 for it.’

Now that’s what I’m talking about! This kid gets it! I love it when children appreciate that the ‘internal’ rewards for exercise (or anything else in life) far outweigh any temporary happiness that external rewards can offer.

‘But dad, I’d still like the two R5’s. Because you said I could have R5 for every record I break. And you always say, that if you say you’re going to do something, you must do it. So that means you can’t say you’ll give me R5 and then not do it. So you should give me the two R5’s anyway.’

Ok, you’ve got me there my boy!

About Simon

I'm a dad, a teacher and a business owner, doing my best to make every day count. I'm determined to shape the way the next generation feel about exercise, and I'm doing this by showing children the difference between enjoying exercise as part of healthy lifestyle, and participating in exercise as a means to perform in sport. I'm also helping parents learn how to include exercise as a normal part of daily life, and working with schools and teachers to change the way they present exercise to children in the foundation years.

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