The best way to encourage your child to read? Outright bribery

A paediatrician reckons it's the easiest way to incentivise budding book worms during the summer holidays

Books, bribery, kids, children, school holidays


The summer holidays can be a difficult time for parents, trying to figure out what to do with idle children during their prolonged school holidays. A phenomenon known in pedagogical circles as ‘summer slide’ is another issue, particularly among children from deprived backgrounds, who are found to spend the weeks of days off forgetting the skills they acquired during term time. Fortunately, as noted in The New York Times, there is an easy way for parents to support their children’s learning – bribe them to read.

While incentivising academic work like poring over a novel might seem like a bad idea, with the prevailing criticism being that children who only do something provided they’re rewarded will result in children giving up when the rewards stop. In fact, in 1998, an analysis of almost 130 different academic studies determined that tangible rewards, such as money or presents, actually “significantly undermine intrinsic motivation,” especially when it comes to children.

However, internal desires to do something can be aided by external stimuli. Take, for example, a recent post by The Washington Post which revealed that when children are hoodwinked into eating healthier foods, they will often maintain the diet choice after the incentives dry up. “People are psychologically inclined to favour short-term rewards, like goofing off or eating tasty food, over long-term ones, like being healthy or saving for retirement,” the article says. But “giving people rewards for healthy behaviours just helps align their short-term incentives with their long-term ones.”

When it comes to picking up a book, Rahil Briggs, a paediatrician who specialises in behavioural health, has said that there is an obvious advantage in offering some incentive. “You want your child to be naturally fascinated, and some are, but some children can benefit from a little bit of a jump-start.”

Striking the balance on what form parental bribery takes is the tricky part. While offering a financial reward for every page finished can work in the immediacy, Briggs reckons a more productive and better way is to make reading a part of family life. The paediatrician suggests turning book selection into an even. To make it “a special thing to go to the library with Dad, and that the alone time is part of what’s rewarding about it.”

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