Kiddie rewards

I read in Reader’s Digest May 06 issue a story about a Filipino-Vietnamese lady recounting her war-stricken young years in Vietnam under the care of her matriarch nanny. The story vividly described how she and an aunt, in a daily errand to bring food to her grandfather, would cheat death against the bullets coming from the practicing Viet Congs.

She said that for every food delivery (which was done on daily lunch basis), she received five cac (Vietnamese centavos). That reminded me of my own experience. No, I did not even have to be threatened for a reward.

When I was six or seven (in 1973 or so), my grandfather once visited our household. My father was proud of my being bright (I don’t know whether he was right, but I think to my parents I was indeed excellent when compared to my older brother as well as to any other kid they knew of; I was lucky to rise above the rest, then). Grandpa was interested. He gave me a challenge – write my name on paper – and he’ll give me a reward if he’s satisfied with my writing.

I felt like a hungry dog drooling for a small piece of food dangled high. So I took on the challenge. I fumbled with my bag and found my writing pad (that used by Grade 1 and 2 pupils, marked alternately by red and blue lines separated at almost half an inch.) The dog in me was confident that jumping for the food was a cinch. So I wrote my complete name (actually, not complete as I did not spell out my middle initial) on my writing pad.

True to form, Grandpa was impressed. He was surprised at the precision of my strokes, which did not go beyond the guide lines. So, for a reward, I received from him five cents. After thanking him, I immediately got out of the house euphoric and thinking what I would do with my money. I chanced upon a fishball vendor and impulsively bought five pieces of fishball. (The price of a fishball then was one centavo per piece.)

That ‘rewarding’ experience taught me that being bright brings home the fishball (my equivalent for the idiom ‘bring home the bacon’). It pays to have a talent.

My eldest son – Martin Howell – seems to have inherited his father’s good penmanship. But I have not rewarded him for such flair. His parents have not cooked up an incentive scheme except that for every recognition day when he and siblings receive a medal, Mom and Dad will treat them to McDo (sorry but McDo’s great-tasting chicken and cheeseburger are enough to exempt it from the list of entities against my patriotism).

I remember some activist friends advising me against ‘capitalistic reward’ system, because with that system, children are conditioned that every accomplishment is equivalent to financial reward, which should not be the case. I agree, but rather slightly. I guess that today’s parents are challenged to strike the balance between monetary and non-monetary rewards. Lea and I thought that our kids should be raised so that they would become enterprising yet socially responsible persons.

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