On Friday, Ladybird proudly came down the steps waving a ‘star of the week’ certificate, wearing a shiny sticker and a huge grin. She’s been waiting for her second appointment with the headteacher, rather like Sir Bruce waited for his moment with the queen, for some time.
Pickle came out the same day pulling Jasper, the class bear behind him. This was a reward too, for also trying really hard with his writing.
‘But my star of the week is better isn’t it?’ Ladybird asked, flapping the certificate wildly in the air and accidentally whacking a passing dad in the stomach.
Ladybird really loves the whole rewards thing. There seem to be a few different schemes at school, the mechanics are all unclear , but Ladybird seems to have it sussed. So far she’s filled her smiley face chart and brought the bear home. There was also an unfortunate incident when Pickle was ‘star of the week’ and the headteacher accidentally called Ladybird up in assembly too. Granny managed to dent the disappointment by making her a ‘star of the weekend’ certificate instead.
Ladybird’s always responded well to bribes, let’s call them incentives, at home, with smiley face or sticker charts. At school the stickers seem to be handed out at the teachers’ discretion, which I’m guessing gives them the flexibility to use them as they need them, but as a friend told me this can lead to inconsistencies. Her twins are in different classes, both did the same cooking project at home – one teacher gave one of the twins points, the other teacher didn’t. So my friend had to ask for the points, otherwise how could she explain this one away at home?
I ran into similar problems with my own discretionary ‘beads in a pot’ system, yes it’s as sophisticated as it sounds. Pickle wasn’t the least bit interested by my revolutionary ideas so I quickly downgraded their target of 20 beads to 10 – getting him beyond negative bead equity seemed impossible at one point. But Ladybird quickly starting working the system, or lack of it. A bead offered for putting their yoghurt pots in the bin, would see Ladybird then putting her lid in the bin, and Pickle’s, and then a random bit of rubbish on the floor. ‘That’s an extra 3 beads isn’t it mummy?’
As another friend pointed out, rewarding children for everything means we’re not bringing children up to do things simply because they need to be done, which leads me on to Pickle. Pickle finally managed to make it up to ten beads, while Ladybird had totted up two sets a while ago, so off we popped to the 99p store where they were let loose to buy any, highly breakable, toy they wanted. But I instantly felt guilty that Pickle was only buying one piece of tat and so let him get two things. Ladybird wasn’t at all happy, she’d earned that extra present and there I was changing the rules.
But for Pickle, a little boy who really doesn’t like carrots, the stick seems to be a stronger motivator. If I promise him a smiley face for tidying up, he politely declines, ‘I’m alright thanks, I’d rather play’, but if I tell him he’ll get a sad face if he doesn’t help, he leaps into action. His teacher tells me he tidies away at school without even having to be asked, so I’m going wrong somewhere, but that’s another story. With Pickle I’m constantly giving him the slow 1-2-3, though I’ve often got no idea what the consequence will be if I reach ‘3’ – usually I don’t need to worry, the threat of the stick works with him.
Although my friend is right, sometimes we do have to do things in life without a reward at the end of it, these carrot and stick systems we have at school and home do reflect life. I mean, a meal out on your boss is a nice way of knowing your hardwork’s been noticed – but there’s no greater motivator than the threat of getting the boot.