Jul 13, 2009

Needing To Win, Hating to Lose

When children are reared in a climate full of rewards and punishment, they may develop strong needs to look "good" or to win, and strong needs to avoid looking "bad" or losing. This is particularly true in families with very reward-oriented parents who rely heavily on positive evaluation, money rewards, gold stars, bonuses, and the like.

Unfortunately, there are many such parents, particularly in middle- and upper-class families. While I do find some parents who philosophically reject punishment as a method of control, I seldom find parents who even question the value of using rewards. The American parent has been inundated by articles and books advising frequent praise and rewards. Most parents have bought this advice unquestioningly, with the result that a large percentage of children in America are daily manipulated by their parents through commendation, special privileges, awards, candy, ice cream, money, and the like. It is no wonder that this generation of "brownie point" children is so oriented to winning, looking good, coming out on top, and above all, avoiding losing.

Another negative effect of reward-oriented child-rearing is what generally happens to a child who is so limited in ability, intellectually or physically, that it is difficult for her to earn brownie points. I refer to tehc hild whose siblings and peers are genetically better endowed, which makes her a "loser" in most of her endeavors at home, on the playground, or at school. Many families have one or more such children, who are destined to go through life experiencing the pain of frequent failure and the frustration of seeing others get the rewards. Such children acquire low self-esteem, and build up attitudes of hopelessness and defeatism. The point is: a family climate heavy with rewards may be more harmful to children who cannot earn them than to those who can.

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