The Benefits of Teaching Life Skills Over Modifying Behavior

Routine charts and rewards charts may look similar but a big difference is the way that each is used. The Positive Discipline philosophy recommends using routine charts instead of reward charts.

What is a Reward Chart?

A reward chart is a visual behavioral system that tracks desired behaviors and ties those behaviors to a particular reward. When a child earns enough stickers, stars or points on the reward chart, a teacher of parent gives the child a reward.

Usually the adult decides on the required number of points or stickers to earn a particular reward. Often adults decide on the reward item, with or without the input of the child. At other times, adults allow children to choose from a treasure box of rewards.

Reward charts are recommended by the “behavior modification” theory of human behavior. Behaviorist theory strongly supports the idea that child behavior stems from positive and negative feedback in a child’s life. A typical “behavior modification” approach uses a system of punishment and rewards to change a child’s behavior.

What is a Routine Chart?

A routine chart tracks the individual steps of a simple routine such as a morning routine or bedtime routine for children. The steps of the routine may be represented through pictures or words.

A routine chart breaks down a large task into small steps. The task of  “getting ready for bed” can be divided into several small steps such as “put on pajamas”, “brush teeth” and “read a story”. A morning routine might include “get dressed”, “eat breakfast” and “put on shoes”.

Some parents and teachers turn routine charts into reward charts too. However many child development experts warn that reward charts only work as long as children are being rewarded and do not work well to teach life skills that help children be self sufficient in the long run. (Add quote from Jane Nelsen of Alfie Kohn)

Reasons Reward Charts are Unhealthy for Children

Child development experts who do not recommend using rewards argue that giving prizes and stickers for behavior holds several unhealthy components. Instead of focusing children on the task at hand, rewarding children focuses their attention to the desired reward. Kids end up doing something because of what they will get, not because it builds independence, helps others or teaches kids a new life skill. If a child makes his bed because he will get paid to make it, what happens when no one will pay the child to make his bed?

“There are at least 70 studies showing that extrinsic motivators—including A’s, sometimes praise, and other rewards—are not merely ineffective over the long haul but counterproductive with respect to the things that concern us most: desire to learn, commitment to good values, and so on,” says Alfie Kohn in an interview with Educational Leadership. Alfie Kohn is the author of Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes [Manner Books, 1999].

How Routine Charts Teach Life Skills

Using routine charts without rewarding children has a variety of benefits. Daily routines provide structure in a child’s life, which indirectly teaches organization skills. When children follow routine charts, they learn to establish patterns of daily life, which teaches predictability. “Routines are very important to give children a sense of order and security,” writes Jane Nelsen in Positive Discipline for Child Care Providers [Prima Publishing, 2002].

Routine charts teach children to be independent. Visual charts allow children to follow a routine on their own. Parents and teachers can use routine charts to teach life skills such as completing the steps of a morning routine, a “clean up toys” routine or even steps for toilet training including using soap to wash hands.

Several experts on child development say that behavior modification- using punishments and rewards – isn’t healthy for kids. They believe that children being bribed into good behavior are missing out on opportunities to develop intrinsic pro-social skills and develop confidence about learning something new or accomplishing a tough task. Working through obstacles during a tough task builds character. Cooperating with others develops altruistic values.

Routine charts teach children what to expect next in the day decreasing stress and anxiety that often leads to tantrums. As children complete routines without being rewarded, they gain pride in the simple accomplishment of a task and learn that there are things that need to be done each day.

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