“Brush your teeth”
“Brush your teeth or they’ll all fall out”
“Don’t care. The tooth fairy will bring me money”
“I’ll give you a sticker?…”
And thus goes the pre-school conversation in my house before we run out of the door (late), to drive to school and catch a train to the office.
The problem, as I feel it, is that the train timetable gods make absolutely no allowance for the up-to-twenty-minutes that it takes my daughter to procrastinate over brushing her teeth every morning.
So we resort to the long triumphed sticker chart – that saviour of parenting struggles across the world. Before taxes and death, the two universal truths of child motivation are balloons… and stickers. (Tier two includes ice cream, chocolate, TV, et al).
But what if we’re teaching children to only behave well in return for a transactional return? What if instead of attaching positive emotional response to doing good, we’re shifting the emotional connection to the receipt of something for being good?
The Atlantic explores exactly this conundrum; Does priming children to expect rewards for doing what they’re told, harm their social skills in the long term?
For now, we’ll take the small mercies that stickers are still preferred to pocket-money, but it won’t be long before we might just wish we’d listened to the child psychologists after all.