Yesterday I asked about rewarding good behavior. My specific question was this:
What makes the societal reward system acceptable compared to the negativity associated with parenting reward systems?
As I’ve thought about this for a few days, I still don’t know that I have an answer. I find it difficult to find one acceptable without finding both acceptable. The inverse is also true; if one is unacceptable, shouldn’t both be unacceptable?
The answer lies, then, in the truest form of a reward based system, and that would be the one that the Lord uses. And yes, that means I’m adjusting the question: The real question should be what makes the Lord’s rewards system acceptable compared to the parenting reward systems?
The gospel is quite clear that the Lord operates on what is essentially a reward system. On the simplest of levels, this can be summed up as saying: Do good, go to heaven. Do bad, go to hell.
And yes, that is a reward system. Going deeper, however, we see several clear examples of reward systems in the scriptures, for example:
Alma 36:1–For I swear unto you, that inasmuch as ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land.
This phrase, or one very similar to it, appears in theBook of Mormonroughly twenty times.
In verse 3 of the same chapter, we read:
Is not this also a reward system? If you do this, I will do this. Also note that the reward system does NOT remove trials and troubles.
Similar to these isDoctrine & Covenants 82:10, which states:
In other words, keep my commandments and I will bless you.
Interestingly enough, we see this same expression said differently earlier in this section. From verse 3:
In other words, rewards should lead to good behavior. Note also that this scripture states quite clearly that bad behavior also has it’s own reward system built in.
And leave us not forget these marvelous verses from Matthew 5:3-12….
Blessed are the amerciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Each of these verses highlights a very clear behavior/attitude/attribute followed by a reward. In fact, check out that last verse again:
Great is your reward in heaven….
Clearly the Lord operates on a reward system, and as such I cannot disregard the value of a using a similar system in my own life.
So what, if any, is the difference between this system and one you would run as a parent? At this point, I have to think that it falls into two possibilities that come readily to mind: The Purpose of the reward system AND the Manner of those rewards.
The Lord’s purpose in His reward system is quite clear: Bless us. Moses 1:39 clearly teaches this:
All that God does is designed for our own growth and benefit.
Truman G. Madsen stated that intelligence is a synonym for glory in this verse. In the gospel, intelligence is often seen as the very core and being of existence. If you read that verse in that light, it changes to something that is even more powerful than the original:
For behold, this is my work and my very existence, the very core of my being–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
When read in that light, it is quite clear that we, the children of God, are not just a hobby that God has on the side. We are everything to Him.
God’s reward system truly is a tool He uses to bless us as fully and completely as possible within an acceptable range for the work we’ve done. His system quite obviously does NOT overly compensate us for works that are not worthy of the reward. Yes, the atonement still applies, but we are wrong if we assume that the reward in heaven will overcome sins and misdeeds that we have not worked to right. Speaking of these, Nephi said:
2 Nephi 28:8 And there shall also be many which shall say: aEat, drink, and be bmerry; nevertheless, fear God—he will cjustify in committing a little dsin; yea, elie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a fpit for thy neighbor; there is gno harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
For our own reward systems to be fully beneficial to our children, we should pattern them after the Lord’s reward system. Our purpose must be for the growth and perfection of the child, for the long-term benefit of the child, AND the rewards should match the effort and behavior of the child. I would also suggest that we would be perfectly clear of our goals with our children.
As shown above, God has clearly stated what His purpose is (our immortality and eternal life). Do our children clearly know what our purposes are when we try to reward them for good behavior (or any act for that matter)?
Manner and Attitude
Courtney pointed out that the Lord often runs His rewards His own way and also in very passive ways that often go unnoticed. For example, obedience doesn’t always bring a tangible reward. The reward often times is just the knowledge that we are doing well.
Courtney mentioned that obeying the Word of Wisdom, as an example, is largely a passive reward system. The benefit comes naturally from obedience to the law. The benefits are very real, but they are largely unnoticed until compared to someone who has not chosen to live that law.
To steal one more of her thoughts, rewards are often shown in just the ability to make decisions and have freedom. To explain… if you steal a car, you’ve pretty much narrowed your choices down to a very small range of options. If you don’t steal the car, you’ve got a lot of choices. In this case, the reward is the lack of punishment and the openness of choices. In other words, the reward isn’t necessarily a pat on the back (“Good job, Dave! You somehow made it through yet another day without stealing a car or robbing the bank!!! Have a cookie!), as much as it is the continuation of life in a normal, comfortable way. To say it yet another way, not every good deed needs to be rewarded visibly. Sometimes the reward is simply the lack of punishment.
So manner…. Obviously the manner of the reward (sometimes passive, sometimes benign, sometimes long-term) matters. Every good deed is rewarded, but not every reward is public, tangible, or easily recognized.
As I look across reward systems, I think I often see a lack of defined purpose and manner in parental systems. And the two go hand in hand. Manner matters, but only when combined with a purpose. Purpose matters, but only when combined with the right manner. I also think I see a disparity between the value of the reward compared to the value of the behavior. It’s one thing to give a big hug and a sticker to your child when he finally sits on the potty and another to run out and buy him a toy every single time he does. The first speaks to his value as a person; the second speaks to the value of the toy.
I do think reward systems have a place–a big place–in helping our children. I think, as a parent, that reward systems are valuable, but they should be natural, they should be adequate to the needs of the child, and they should match a stated purpose. Lastly, for any reward system to be fully beneficial, the primary goal must be the benefit of the recipient, not the benefit of the giver.
To go back to potty training: our goal with rewarding our son for his potty training efforts is NOT to stop changing or buying diapers, although both of those are great benefits. Rather, the whole purpose is to help him gain a valuable skill that he’ll need as he grows.
It’s for him, not for me.