Friday Faculty Focus: Laura Jana

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March 10th, 2017

Dr. Laura Jana poses for a photo. (Photo by Brandon McDermott

On this week’s Friday Faculty Focus, KVNO’s Brandon McDermott speaks with Dr. Laura Jana, Pediatrician from the University of Nebraska Medical center. They discuss extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards, when raising children in the 21st century, and how it may affect children as they grow.


Brandon: Dr. Laura Jana, thanks for joining me.

Dr. Jana: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Brandon: In your newest book “The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today That Will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow,” you wrote “Research predicts that today’s average third grader will eventually find employment in a job that has yet to be invented.” What does that tell us about where we should be with parenting?

Dr. Jana: That concept that the world is changing really quickly – tells us that we need to really consider what our parenting paradigm should be and that it actually needs to shift from when we were children when we were growing up. Because recognizing with technology and the rapid pace of change – the skills that our children will need to function well and succeed in the 21st century – are going to be different than those that were much more defined by an industrial factory line mindset – The complete tasks, check the box, follow the rules, straight and narrow. Now we’re really much more shifting toward skills that have to do with adaptability, creativity, communication, critical thinking and those things in a globalized complex world that will that will serve our children well.

Brandon: Can you touch on the overall message from your book.

Dr. Jana: It’s interesting; I like to say “The Toddler Brain” as a title is a little bit misleading. It’s certainly about and applies to toddlers. But it also applies to ages 0-5 (years of age), those really critical first five years that are really gaining a lot of attention both in the academic and the research world, in the the worlds of economics and neuro-science and everywhere else. It also applies equally to pediatricians, parents, policymakers and business people – in that the focus really is on these skills, these 21st century skills. I as a pediatrician, a parent, an early educator – I live in the world of everyone who is supposed to be assembling that tool-kit, given all we now know about early brain science and early child development.

Brandon: Can you talk a little bit about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards and how they go into how we parent our kids?

Dr. Jana: It was pretty striking to me even crossing over into the realm of social psychology and a lot of the research that’s been done there – to read in a book for example like Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive,” where he talks about extrinsic rewards and how getting rewards outside of feel good kind of rewards – but somebody giving you something to complete a task – kills creativity. It’s one of the most researched areas of psychology.

As a pediatrician who deals with parenting and behavior and things, I can think of a hundred ways that parents, teachers and all of us use extrinsic rewards. If you want me to name a few – you’ve got sticker charts, you’ve got “two more bites of broccoli and I’ll give you dessert,” – “if you do this, you can stay at 15 more minutes,” – “if you brush your teeth, you can watch TV for an extra half hour.” All those things that we negotiate and bargain, those are all extrinsic rewards for doing something that really should be a part of natural child development. I understand it, because it works in the short run. But, what’s striking is if you look at what’s inherently necessary, it’s self-motivation right the reward is the accomplishment itself. It made me really stop and wonder, “what are we doing in those first five years?” There’s a lot of thought paid to extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards in the workforce, “Do you pamper your employees?” – “Do you reward them for every tier of accomplishment?” Or do they take pride in their work and you engage them?

But if you look at intrinsic motivation and I like to use potty training. Take potty training and the example I use is “will pee for M&M’s.” It’s so common for parents, struggling with trying to get their kids to potty train, to offer candy in this case M&M’s. If I could take one example of something where you should not need an extra reward – the intrinsic reward should be enough – it would be not have to sit in a dirty diaper. Again I want to really get people to take a step back and think about what is it we’re doing early, if later on down the road we want kids to do things because it feels good, because it’s the right thing to do, because they get a sense of accomplishment – as opposed to because I’m going to get a dollar, I’m going to get a sticker, I’m going to get to go do something else.

Brandon: In a sense, we’re talking about retraining not only the way we raise kids but also retraining ourselves and how we do that?

Dr. Jana: Now you’ve just hit the nail on the head. It’s a point that I don’t you know I don’t hit people over the head with in the book. But, the irony when I was writing this was that the skills needed to be future thinking, “What do we want our kids to have as skills in the future,” – “how do we get there?” – “How do we adapt what we do as parents in a changing world?” – “Are the skills that we’re seeing what our children need?” It applies not just to parents, but it’s the same thing in the workplace. If you look at the shift of what do employers now hire for, they want to know when you failed and what did you do about it, how did you adapt? It’s nice to have accomplishments, I’m not saying that the cognitive IQ skills – the reading, writing and arithmetic aren’t important but this whole new set of skills is equally important in the workplace for parents and then for children.

Brandon: Dr. Laura Jana, thanks for joining me on the show.

Dr. Jana: Great to join you, thanks so much.

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