JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - December 2018
The Greatest Gift of All
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
The season of gift giving brings up the question, “What is the best gift for loved ones, friends and colleagues?” This made me think a lot about the most helpful gifts we could give at any time of year or in any situation.
A recent article suggested that parents should not give children allowances, but they should give them money for household chores, and further that the child should ‘choose’ these chores. Then they would budget their money with good financial guidance. The budgeting part is sound advice. The money for chores advice is very questionable.
Alfie Kohn writes in “Science Confirms It: People Are Not Pets” (NY Times, 11/28/18), “Case in point: the discovery that when we are rewarded for doing something, we tend to lose interest in what ever we had to do to get the reward,” and “The conclusions that rewards frequently kill both interest and excellence have grown more solid in the intervening decades.”
Another author, KJ Dell’Antonia states in “Happy Children Do Chores” (NY Times, 8/19/18), “For starters, chores are good for kids. Being a part of the routine work of running a household helps children develop an awareness of the needs of others, while at the same time contributing to their emotional well being. Children who consider themselves necessary to the family are less likely to feel adrift in a world where everyone wants to feel needed.”
What are we really talking about? Dell’Antonia continues, “Psychologists often distinguish between intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something for its own sake) and extrinsic motivation (for example, doing something to snag a goody). The first is the predictor of high-quality achievement, and it can actually be undermined by the second. Moreover, when you promise people a reward, they often perform more poorly as a result.”
Even though many decades of research and lived experience tell us that rewards and punishments are not the best determinant of teaching any sort of skill or value, we continue to persist in this fallacy of thinking and acting.
The popular dog behavioral guru, Cesar Milan, disagrees with the reward/punishment idea. He suggests that dogs should have, 1. Exercise (an hour a day), 2. Discipline, (in the form of rules, boundaries limitations taught in a non-abusive manner), and
3. Affection. Dogs already have a hard-wired intrinsic motivation in that they want to please us.
So, how do we tap into the intrinsic motivation of children or adults? Let’s really think about what motivates you the most in your day-to-day life? Another good question is what taught you this?
One of the many lessons I learned growing up was from my mother’s philosophy of allowances. She let my siblings and me know from the beginning, about age seven, that our allowance was not a reward for doing chores, but a tool to help us learn to manage money. She told us that we were all part of the family and would be expected to do our part for the family. Then our allowance was to be used to cover things like school supplies, gifts, or other necessary expenditures, also to save (had bank accounts from about age 10) and then, to spend as we wished.
This was done with age-appropriate expectations. As adults I think we all have a good balance of awareness of the needs of others, working as part of a team, responsibility to others, giving to others, and a healthy appreciation of the meaning and use of money.
She modeled caring by doing so much for us, our neighbors, and people in need in the community. I did volunteer work during high school. All of us have careers as people giving to the community, supporting our families and others.
Perhaps, the one lesson I had to learn as an adult was how to care for myself. The opposite result seems to be occurring now. In “Happy Children Do Chores,” the author writes, “Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist and colleagues surveyed more than 10,000 students from 33 middle and high schools around the country and found that almost 80 percent said they valued their own happiness over caring for others. Most thought their parents would agree.” This statistic should give us pause to rethink our approach to motivating children or adults.
Let’s think carefully about how we motivate others or ourselves. Let’s give the year round gift that keeps on giving!
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to