Many parents are familiar with the “Punished by Rewards” concept.  It is a very sensitive subject.  Indeed, there are many ways that rewards can be used to make a child feel bad and insecure.  Many of us make the mistake of confusing rewards with encouragement, or bribery.

Even praise can be very damaging, if it is nonspecific and unearned.  Some adults dole out sweets, or a stream of “High five” “Way to go” “Good job” “Love you” — these rewards are nothing but a comfort blanket for the kids, just background music, unnoticed until they stop.  Stopping the flow of platitudes, inadvertently becomes a punishment.  The result – insecurity.  The most reliable way to turn on the “rewards” flow again is actually to misbehave.

“Don’t behave badly and you will get a treat!” That’s bribery.  How many of us have experienced unfocussed students who, repeatedly ask parents if they are going to get the usual after lesson treat?  The kids are being rewarded for not doing something, which puts them in a very powerful position.

Rewarding one child in a group, doesn’t work either and can create bad vibes from peers.  Just imagine what can happen to a kid in the playground, after he has been rewarded in front of his peers in the classroom, for being “good.”

BUT…. Young beginners seldom get intrinsic rewards, from trying to play the instrument. It does make a lot of difference, when I give extrinsic rewards for focusing well enough to do the task with success.  I do not dole out rewards willy-nilly, but under strict conditions:

  • Rewards and games with rewards are only ever played at my suggestion, on my terms.  They are never wheedled out of me as a condition for working.
  • I reward for the results of focus and hard work, rather than for being talented.
  • I have an OK from the parents.
  • I explain MY terms to the child, so that he or she will know exactly what has to be done.
  • I set the child up to win, Preparing carefully, going as slooowly as needed.
  • I always stick to my terms and I even gloat a bit at the idea of winning the reward for myself.  I make a point of really wanting the sweet, or whatever is on offer, since nobody ever lets me win.  I’m still waiting to win it.

Under these secure conditions, the reward is really earned and contributes to self esteem.  A little common sense and your child will never feel punished by rewards.  They are, a fact of life and very nice indeed, when you have worked hard, used your initiative or made a breakthrough.

One of my friends still remembers with pride, the chocolate cookie that Dr Suzuki gave him for his perfect spiccato.

Warning — Parents, never compete against your own children.  They need an ally at home.  My families find a toy to practice against, or use me in my absence, as the practice baddie.


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