After spending almost 12 years as a mom, I have come to the conclusion that nearly all parenting struggles boil down to one core problem: Kids have minds of their own. Who knew?! Thinking thoughts for themselves, exercising free will all over the place. Wanting things we don't want for them, doing the opposite of what we need them to do. The nerve of these ungrateful creatures!
Just kidding -- mostly. Obviously we gave birth to babies, not robots. We didn't have kids just to order them around. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes we really do need them to listen/behave/do as they're told, etc. Particularly in scenarios involving oncoming traffic ("I told you not to play near the street!"), possible infectious disease transfer ("Wash your hands!"), dental hygiene ("Brush! Now!"), education ("Time for homework!"), and so on and so forth.
But because they lack our perspective on such matters, kids often see no reason to comply, and because parents are desperate, we often resort to bribery. But guess what? Even if you think those dangling carrots are getting the job done, they're not. Study after study has shown that bribes simply don't work in the long-term -- take the reward away, and the desired behavior will go with it! Whaddya mean, no stickers?! What's in it for me?
So what are we supposed to do instead? Get down on our knees and beg them to clean their rooms? Stoop to using threats and punishment? Only if you want your kid to become either a spineless doormat or a rebel without a cause:
“Human beings have only two reactions to control,” said Daniel Pink, best-selling author of Drive, a review of over 40 years in research on what motivates human behavior. “They comply or they defy. I don’t think most parents want compliant children, and I don’t think they want defiant children. They want children who are active, engaged and motivated by deeper things.”
And who brush their teeth willingly, I might add. (At this rate I feel like I'll be calling my kids at college every night nagging them to brush and floss.) I don't know if such human beings can actually be raised up from the natural born dictators most children seem to be, but here are a few expert tips on how to get good behavior without bribing, begging, or bullying:
1. Avoid using words like "should," "must," or "have to" -- these make kids feel like they're being pushed around.
2. Offer praise instead of rewards.
3. If you do give rewards, make them spontaneous and after the fact -- don't promise them ahead of time, wait until you "catch your kid being good."
4. Try to make things fun. Put dance music on when it's time for your kid to clean his room. Make a funny "thinking cap" to wear while doing homework. Whatever it takes.
Do you bribe your kids?
Image via Lars Plougmann/Flickr