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A few months ago, I subscribed my 9 year old son to a code learning platform for kids, to try to give him a taste for logic and technology. During that same period, he asked me for a game console. I took the opportunity and told him if he finished the entire coding course, he’d get a console. At first, he was excited and kept asking for more. Little by little the tasks became more difficult and he played less and less. And the less he practiced, the more difficult it became. Now he’s really not enjoying it and gets frustrated a lot.

Now, he asked me if I could give him a different challenge to get his game console. I’m hesitant: On one hand I want to respect that he’s not obligated to like the things I like, and don’t want to force him. On the other hand, I don’t want him to quit things in life just when they get a little difficult.

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    You should think about what that would do to his expectations in future - "something gets too hard, I can move on to something else and still get the same reward..."
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Apr 30 at 17:08
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    This question strikes me as somewhat opinion-based. I can think of a few approaches you could go, but more importantly you likely shouldn't have offered a reward for finishing the course in the first place. If he didn't finish the course that's a sign that he may just not like coding, which isn't a problem and exactly what you would want to learn from the experiment. By offering him a reward you made it a test, rather than for fun, which may have killed his motivation.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented May 1 at 1:25

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I suppose the question is, what are you trying to teach him? Perseverance at a task? Self motivated learning? Asking for help when things are hard? (Trust me, from seeing employees who just... stop when they are stuck, this is very important!) Trying a different way of doing something if the first way didn't work (also an important skill)?

You could try modelling keeping the original goal, but maybe you'll work on the harder stuff together, as working together in a team is also a really good skill for him to learn. Or you could work together to come up with a different challenging goal, but remind him that it will take even longer to earn the prize! There is an option of decoupling the reward from the achievement of finishing the course. This plays into the "extrinsic v intrinsic motivation" debate. Do you want him motivated externally by reward or internally by enjoying the process?

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  • Those are good points. I think I came to the conclusion that he simply does not enjoy coding. So I don't want to force him. But he's also very much looking for quick rewards. I started talking to him about other options to reach his reward, but all of them long.
    – Nathan H
    Commented May 2 at 8:23
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My take is that your goal as a parent isn't to ensure that your child acquires any particular skill, or actually finishes tasks like this. It's to help them find what they actually like doing, and what they're good at. This mostly means encouraging them to try different things throughout their childhood and seeing what sticks, not, as you put it, forcing them to do things (with the qualifier that schoolwork is something that they really need to do).

IMO, the initial mistake was made when he was offered a reward for completing the course, as you made the task about a reward, and not experimentation with a new skill. He may have felt that when the tasks got too hard that he wasn't good enough to get his reward, rather than he was maybe just having fun, and trying something new and seeing if he liked it.

But now that the reward has been offered I'd recommend not treating him like a child so to speak, and including him in the conversation on what he thinks is fair for him to get the console. You could also own up to the mistake and just talk to him about how the coding course was just supposed to be fun, and not that serious. Whatever you do, your goal should likely be not to de-motivate him further. And in the future I'd personally avoid offering rewards for stuff like this. He'll learn more if it's about having fun, and if he's not having fun, then he's likely doing something that isn't going to be a career in the future.

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