Reinforcers - I believe we must differentiate between reinforcers that are intrinsic – the process is rewarding or there is goal identification – the end product , rather than some extrinsic reward that parents offer.
We should be guided by the questions ? –how does my intervention impact on my kid's needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness- SDT and how my interventions will meet both kids and parents concerns and solve problems - CPS .
If the kid feels he needs some extrinsic motivation, I would first clarify his goals – for eg practicing piano 5 times a week and see how some extrinsic motivation will help him achieve his goal. Here he wants to meet his goal, the reward is there just to help him get there. What happens in practice is that kids are willing to suffer - practice or do homework for a price.
Competence - If a kid is reluctant to engage in an activity and needs to practice to acquire a skill , extrinsic motivation on the one hand can promote competence, but impacts negatively on autonomy and relatedness. A CPS approach is likely to uncover other concerns of the kid and unsolved problems other than motivation. When the reward is self determined , it is not controlling and the reward has less impact on intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic reinforcers may be useful with tasks that are manual and require little thinking as they tend to narrow focus. The promise of a pay-off or a reward interferes with higher levels of thinking and creativity which are exploratory or ' wider in focus'.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI),a study showed that entirely different areas of the brain are activated by the same task depending on whether a person anticipates a payoff or not. When focused on a reward, the brain switches off those areas associated with voluntary or self-initiated activities. '
Pairing an intrinsic reward - the value expressed by the behavior with an extrinsic reward converts the behavior – a social norm into an economic norm - so by giving a kid a reward for helping or befriending a lonely kid – a social norm has been given economic value , this is what I get for doing that. The internal pride and intrinsic reward of being able express one's self and values gets lost.
The problem with praise is not the quantity – over praising but praise itself- its judgmental nature . Instead we should use neutral informational feedback and questions that help kids self asses and reflect on how they impact on their world. Behavior or sticker charts are rather different to a kid self assessing and monitoring his behavior without external forms of control in place.
Extrinsic reinforcers may be helpful in the short –term but like medication I doubt whether any parent would like to see them as a long term solution. They also undermine intrinsic motivation and internalization of values, don't generalize and if their effect is lost when rewards are withdrawn. They get the kid to ask – what will I get or what is in it for me , instead of asking and reflecting - what type of person do I want to be , do my actions reflect on my values ?