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The role of reward and punishment in raising children

Date: 09/12/2013 A.D 6/2/1435 H

Translated by: Fatima Makkeh

  The principle of reward and punishment is based on psychological mechanisms that stimulate the positive conduct and suppress the negative one. Thus, reward acts as a positive stimulator, while punishment acts as a negative one. When man is promised with a reward in return of doing something, he would work hard to gain that reward, just as the case of he who covers long distances and overstresses himself with hard workouts to win. We deprive ourselves of many things we desire because we fear their negative impacts on us, be they part of the work we avoid or a punishment inflicted on us.

  Punishment and reward are related to the feelings of desire and fear in man's entity, being two important feelings that enable him to guarantee his own safety and realize his humanity in all its positive and negative needs.

  At the level of raising children, after examining the potentials of whom we want to reward or punish, we ought to choose what kind of punishment and reward to resort to. But we should keep in mind that we ought not choose rewarding when we want to direct the child towards something, nor punishing when we want to drive him away from something, except after examining that person's circumstances and way of living in every aspect, for we might overburden him by giving him a sip that is more than he can bear or lesser than what he is in need for.

  Moreover, applying the method of punishment and reward on children actually aims at developing the child's personality, humanity, and mind; which means that we have to find out the easiest way to talk to him using his own fashion of speech.

  In other words, the act of raising is mostly connected to man's inner self, considering that we want to make the child store certain thoughts in his mind and certain feelings in his heart, and encourage him to undertake what makes him reach certain goals. Since dealing with children requires penetrating into his inner self, we ought to try out several methods in order to determine the right one. So, punishment and reward in the process of raising children is a constantly modified process.

  As such, we ought to study the method of punishment and reward well before resorting to it, for if we make the child used to financial reward, in return of studying for example, we might actually be encouraging him not to study except in return for a certain amount of money, thus, driving him away from actually caring about studying or being interested in a certain idea or cause.

  However, this does not contradict with the fact that we might need to resort to reward for cases in which the child rebels and refuses to study or read, in order to direct him toward what we want him to choose by himself. This is what we notice with the children who refuse to study, so if the father or mother offers them some money or a few toys, or even promise to take them out for a ride or give them something they like, they would work hard to receive the promised reward and exert efforts in studying to the extent of feeling pleasure upon doing that, and receiving high grades. Supposedly the father or mother deprived their son from the reward; the child would rebel against them.

  The process of reward and punishment is more like a medicine, which needs to be examined carefully in terms of the dosages that ought to be given to the child in any regard whatsoever.

  Moreover, parents or teachers might resort to beating in order to subdue the child due to their lack of patience or because they believe that this method is the easiest and nearest way to solve their problems with their youngsters. However, the method of beating might hush the child for a certain while, but the truth is that it leaves negative impacts on his personality for it leaves him with a feeling of oppressions and fear on one hand, and a rejection stand from the person hitting him, on the other hand.

  Actually, making the child feel oppressed by resorting to the method of beating is a kind of oppression that the parents ought to avoid. Perhaps we can deduce this from the great humanitarian thought expressed in the following saying: "the worst kind of oppression is oppressing the weak." Therefore, we ought to respect the humanity of the child as part of our respect to our humanity. Moreover, the problem with the majority of people is the fact that they are selfish; they ask others to treat them in a humanitarian manner; however they do not respect them back. This issue was expressed in Imam Zein Al-Abideen (a.s.)'s supplication: "Oh God, just as You dislike me to be wronged, protect me from wronging others"; actually, this is the meaning of the two sayings: "Treat people the way you would want to be treated," and, "Oh son, make yourself a balance between you and others; like for the others what you like for yourself." The margin through which resorting to beating is justified is very narrow, in the sense that it should not be resorted to, except in really threatening cases, considering beating to be an operation to extirpate the disease.

  The success of the method that we can abide by to deliver any idea to the child's mind or any feeling to his heart is based on taking into consideration what lessons and pressures the child's personality can bear. Actually, the general educational line that we ought to follow is based on showing mercy towards the child, considering that mercy is a general line that governs man's relation with Allah, or a human's relation with another human.

  Mercy is not a moral term, but rather a cognitive one that requires determining the child's intellectual level and estimating his real circumstances upon talking to him or directing him. Moreover, the process of raising, in general, is not supposed to be based on how the one who is doing the act of raising thinks, in the sense that he forcefully projects what he had read or learned on the child; but rather the case of a religious or social leader who is supposed not to impose his personal stands on the others, but examine their experiences and circumstances to reach an educational culture that helps him in doing his job in education and nurturing, by means of what leads to accomplishing the desired goals; especially as the general trend says:(Allah does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability,) (02:286), concerning what obligations, directions, and the like are imposed on it.

Source: Excerpt from the book "Donya At-Tofol" (The World of Children).

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