Throughout my years of working with mothers, one topic continues to come up in conversations – when to pay and when not to pay children.
So here are my thoughts, take what works for you and trash the rest – but please know this is not a quick, nor is it an easy, answer.
Here’s the thing about money. It causes an item to have a defined value (or lack thereof). In 2008, Dan Ariely wrote the book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. It’s a fascinating look at why we do what we do and how we make decisions. He talks about two forms of currency or value. The first is a social norm, where money isn’t the issue. Instead, it’s about relationships and the value or benefit our decision brings to our fellow man. The second is a market norm. This norm focuses on money and the fiscal results of a decision.
Quick example: A plate of cookies are in the office break room. Sign says, “help yourself”. People only took one cookie and the cookies lasted for a while so everyone had an opportunity to enjoy one. Another time a plate of cookies was labeled, “.25 each”. Guess what happened? People put in a dollar and took 4 cookies. The cookies were gone in a short time period and people took more cookies than they did before.
According to Ariely, here’s what happened. A market norm was assigned to an object and therefore the social norm went away. No one thought about others, they just did the math. I put in a dollar, I get 4 cookies.
It makes sense doesn’t it? But here’s the thing. Ariely (and a bunch of really smart psych people) figured out that once a market norm is assigned, the social norm not only goes away, it can never return. He has so many examples about a daycare charging for watching kids late, lawyers helping the elderly with legal advice, and on it goes. It’s a fascinating book and I think it bears some weight with kids, grades, chores, and a household.
Is it wrong to pay kids for responsibilities or positive marks? I don’t think so.
Is it necessary? I don’t think so.
Before you get upset – hear me out.
Each of my children are unique. Their learning styles and abilities are very different. My oldest can work for 4 hours on math and still only earn a B. My middle child can do the same assignment in 1 hour and earn an A.
Did my middle child work harder? Nope. Is my oldest not giving his best? Nope.
So why would I assign a market norm to their learning and their abilities?
What if my kid has a teacher that is just one of those royal, pain in the rear end, jerks who never gives an A on a test or paper? What if my kid has a learning disability or the unit they are studying in school just doesn’t make sense to them? There are so many variables involved in the learning process and school objectives.
Carol Dweck writes and speaks about how important the PROCESS is and not just the PRODUCT of learning. (CLICK HERE to watch her Ted Talk) She did an experiment with groups of children who were given projects and puzzles to complete. One group was told they were “smart” when they finished and the other group was praised with the words, “you worked so hard” at completion.
Each group was then offered a more difficult puzzle or one at the same level. Wanna guess which group went up a level and invited more challenge?
Yep – the group that was focused on the process. The ones who were told they were smart really were smart kids. In fact, they figured that if this level of doing things constitutes “smart”, why should I push myself?
I’m not suggesting we lose “smart” from our vocabulary, but the minute I add market norms to grades and the learning process, I take away the social norm of enjoying the process of thinking, struggling with answers, and in the end having a result that reflects my efforts – no matter the grading scale being used.
As mothers we are tasked with creating global citizens. People who aren’t afraid to work hard. People who immerse themselves in the process and create a product that is an authentic reflection of our children’s thoughts, dreams, feelings, and abilities.
We can tackle the topic of chores another time. For now, start thinking about what events or tasks need to remain focused on process and social norms instead of focusing so much on the market. The “market” of this world can sometimes limit our kids or misrepresent them.
I truly believe our children are looking to US to provide a market that values them beyond their grades or scores. But instead, values what they bring to our family and our society.
So here’s your mneumonic device for the day concerning grades and performance in children:
Accept each child as unique and wonderful.
Be focused on the process more than the product.
Continue to encourage children to try, even if a “prize” or “medal” doesn’t come in the end.
I value you.
Thank you for caring about the little things and the big things.
You stay up late, wash clothes, clean floors, wipe away tears, and YOU are making this world better. Don’t limit your actions according to the market norm. Your value FAR exceeds such measurements. You and I have a social norm that will come to light as our children grow and treat others as we have treated them – with respect.
Thank you for sharing, liking, and commenting – Spring is coming – hang in there!