Tonight on a message board I put together a reply to someone asking for advice on a financial reward system for good behaviour amongst boys aged 4, 6 and 8. For once I managed to put together a reply in under 2,000 words. Thought I'd copy it here to commemorate my succinctness:
As I see it, the reason kids whine and fight and generally behave poorly is because they are not able to see things from the perspective of others. They don't understand why sometimes their brother needs to have an extra 3 minutes with the Tonka truck or the video game, or that a nasty word or a nasty tone of voice hurts the feelings of a parent or sibling. In other words, young children may not have developed the empathy skills that allow them to see the world through the eyes of others, so they see it only from their own, self-centred perspective.
The ultimate, mature, well-socialized reason for good behaviour is that one cares about others and how one's behaviour impacts the rest of the world. The problem with rewards, IMO, is that they put the focus firmly back on the child's selfish desires. The message becomes "don't hit your brother, because missing your reward will hurt you" rather than "don't hit your brother, because it hurts him." Rewards reinforce concern with the self, rather than promoting concern for the other.