The Role of Rewards in modifying Children’s Behavior

Dr. M. C. Jain 
M.A. Ph.D. (Psychology)

Children have a natural tendency to learn on their own and they do make attempts to learn. It has been observed that mostly they try to learn appropriate behaviors. But unfortunately many a times they do not succeed and as a consequence they do not feel pleasure in learning. Such failures usually discourage them to make more attempts to learn. If we as teachers and parents can make certain attempts reduce the number and intensity of failures in children’s learning, it can promote their urge to learn more. If certain factors in home and school settings are so arranged that children’s attempts to learn meet with pleasant consequences and success experiences, their learning can be facilitated.

The learning of appropriate behavior by children can be enhanced through the effective and skillful use of rewards by teachers and parents. Rewards also enhance children’s participation in the learning process and thereby help them to learn appropriate behaviors faster as well as relatively permanently. 

What is a Reward ? 
Let us first see what we mean by a reward. When a person behaves, something happens after that behavior. It is called a consequence of that behavior. For example, a child shows us his/her good handwriting, we praise the child and the child further improves his/her handwriting. We can say that the praise has acted as reward for the child. Similarly if another child recites a rhyme and his classmates clap their hands, the child shows better performance in studies and the teacher writes good in his/her exercise book.In all these examples we see that the behavior is followed by some events.It has been observed that if people like or feel good about the event that follows their behavior and increases the chances of that behavior to occur again is called a reward.

In everyday life, we can see that we do a lot of things and also continue doing these because of their consequences. For example, we learn and maintain the behavior of turning the ignition key to the right to start the car because the engine has started in the past whenever the key was turned to the right. Similarly a child’s playing is said to be rewarded when it increases as a result of his/her parents’ giving attention and praise when he/she plays.

We tend to report the behavior which is followed by rewards. If some of our behavior is not followed by a reward or pleasant consequences, we tend not to repeat that behavior again. Therefore we see that rewards are very important means of changing behavior.

Similarly in the case of children also anything they like or feel good about is a reward for them. We, as teachers or parents may observe that some things, objects, events, or privileges serve as rewards for most children, but many a times we also observe that rewards also vary from child to child. For example, a child may like material rewards like toys whereas another child feels better when he receives a pat from his teacher or the father. Reward for a particular child may not be something that we as teacher or parents think he/she likes. The main characteristic of a reward is that it increases the occurrence of a behavior t follows. Therefore, it is obvious that rewards can be effectively used to enhance appropriate behavior in children.

Why Rewards are required ?
If our behavior results in desirable consequences, we learn that this is more likely to behave in a similar fashion in future. Similarly if students study hard and get a higher percentage , they are more likely to work hard for the next examination also. But as teachers we may find that many a times this natural reward is not sufficient to maintain the desirable behavior of working hard for the examinations. It can be due to the fact that some students are unable to see any immediate benefit e.g. from learning plane geometry. Some students may be unable to realize the importance of high grades. In such cases the teacher can systematically arrange the conditions in such a ways that the students are able to get more opportunities to earn the valued rewards. It can be done by introducing additional rewards into the teaching learning process. For example , the teacher can give rewards like attention praise and privileges like playing games of one’s own choice etc. To children who show the desirable behavior of high grade s in this case. It has been observed that the use of such rewards enhances the learning of desirable behaviors in children. Similarly parents can also use such rewards to increase desirable behavior in children. For example , a mother can tell the child that he will be allowed t go for play or watch T.V. only if he completes ck to the his home work or behaves properly as may be the case. We as teacher or parent should stick to the stated condition, i.e. give the reward only after he shows the desirable behavior in question in a particular case. Of course one has to find the likes and dislikes of the particular child because the things or activities like by a child can be used for tat child as a reward to increase the desirable behavior in him.