Do you ever feel like you have tried every reward chart on the planet? Ever feel as though your walls, bulletin boards, and mind are so cluttered with valiant attempts to bribe decent behaviors into your children and not so decent behaviors out? Never fear. I have a magic pill. Throw them out. Buckle down. And get ready to stand.
Children do not actually want, or need, reward charts. They are a hindrance. A distraction that creates static enough to drown out the real and lasting message. What children desire to know, with unshakable certainty, is that they are on their path. It feels good to have direction, stability, boundaries, and nurturing parents that don’t flinch at every fit, push back, and test of wills. Children like to feel good.
I have found that the thing my children desire most from me has nothing to do with external rewards that I can purchase for them, and everything to do with recognizing real growth and accomplishment. My praise and recognition go a long way in encouraging them to acknowledge and internalize their efforts, but only when it is real.
Hypocrisy is no match for the x-ray vision of a child’s soul. They may smile and say thank you for that ‘way to go’ when nothing real happened. They may be giddy for the stickers on the chart, money in their bank, and medals and trophies to adorn their room. None of those things last. They must quickly be replaced by more, bigger, and better. Children want to be recognized for things that take effort and work, and they want to feel it, not stare at it. They have little use for praise and bribes to stroke their egos, but they will take whatever we offer and run with it. Which part of your child do you want to encourage and praise? Are you stroking the Soul, or the Ego. One is lasting, the other fleeting, and quite damaging to the first.
Money, gum, stickers, accumulating something for an outing, you name it, all of it pales in comparison to the joy they feel inside when they have set a goal, met the mark, and receive internal satisfaction, backed up by the ever enjoyed ‘way to go’. They know what they do. They know what they don’t do. Give them credit where credit is due and not where it isn’t. Praise the effort rather than rewarding the achievement. Praise the character rather than rewarding the award. Praise the work rather than rewarding the grade, trophy, or acknowledgement of man.
Have you ever heard, or uttered, silly words of congratulations, or offered a ridiculously disproportionate reward? Have you ever found yourself justifying the choice to bribe things out of your children or offer something for nothing? Have you looked around our society lately and been dumbfounded as to how in the world we came from: respect your elders, clean up after yourself, work hard, earn your own living, and so on, to: pants around the ankles, young girls and women dressed as pin up models, expectations of instant success and fame, and disrespect for anyone and anything that tells you what to do. I would venture to say that it has everything to do with external versus internal rewards. We have created quite a conundrum for ourselves, promising the world for little to nothing. The effects are far reaching, but we need only be concerned with our tiny speck of mankind. Horton heard the Who. Do you?
Many years ago, I found myself facing a difficult mothering situation with my then 3 year old. In my inexperience I sought advice from others, the advice was always a chart. I tried them all. We have struggled through the years to overcome my incorrect handling of the situation and are making progress, slowly but surely. The road could have been shorter, much less complicated, and less damaging to his soul, had I sought advice from the best source and stuck with it. I learned the hard way.
The funny thing is, I still learn the hard way, but I am getting faster at correcting the course and remembering that I can’t give it to them, but I can choose the best method to teach and train. There are so many methods out there. I choose to stick with the same method my Father in heaven has chosen for me; set the expectation and allow time, with loving nurturing care at the ready. Slow and steady progress. Learning and growing step by step and bit by bit; line upon line and precept upon precept. I don’t get a chorus of angels singing my praises each time I hold my tongue rather than speak in anger or impatience, but I do get a much more peaceful life and the self-assurance that I am on my path. I want the same for my children.
I have heard tale upon tale of frustration and miserable results from wonderful mothers that are trying so hard. They are at the end of their rope, usually several reward charts and attempts in deep, and they come asking for advice. My approach is radical in this day and age. It can be difficult to wrap your head around it. I don’t use reward charts, or anything of the type. Instead, I post expectations. We have lessons about goals, we set goals, and then we follow up with tracking our progress. When a certain goal is reached there is a feeling of accomplishment that transcends the need for external rewards. The next goal is set and we are off to the races again.
The very thing that is supposed to ‘help’ is sucking the life and efforts (not to meniton oodles of time) out of the mothers that are trying desperately to simplify. We wonder daily what is going on and where the chaos keeps leaking in. Our frantic need to make everything just so, and keep up appearances, often removes us so far from the spirit that we can’t hear what is best in the moment. The charts and rewards have to keep getting bigger, better, more exciting, and enticing, just to garner half the result. The time and energy spent trying to coerce obedience might just be better spent returning to a place where the confidence comes from within, and the ability to require certain things and set expectations, is not a traumatic internal struggle and argument. We give ourselves excuses and justify until the point of silliness. We have been conditioned and choose to buy in to the belief that if we can not offer immediate and tangible rewards for basic acts of decency and character, then we have no right to ask it.
This is serious, and seriously fun, business, this mothering stuff. Who are you? What do you really want for your children? What can you teach them that will lead them to their path of peaceful, healthy, and happy ways. What will lead them to live fulfilling and authentic lives, full of joy? How can you train these things best, so they become a part of your children? Give yourself the time and opportunity to reset, and actively decide these things. Mothering on the fly is a dangerous practice and our children pay the price.
I do a thing. I don’t remember when I started this thing. It works wonders and my children love it. You do have to understand that my children have not been raised to expect external rewards for breathing. Whenever things are spiraling beyond any semblance of order and I need compliance for whatever reason (sometimes it’s simply my sanity), I call out, “Who is going to win the obedience prize?” Immediately, they run, scatter, begin, stop, or whatever is needed at the moment. They all want the Obedience Prize. I employed this practice one day while trying to ‘heard cats’ as a friend’s husband calls it, and get my children to leave a playdate and scurry to the van. There was whispering from the other children to their mother, “What is the prize Mom? What are they going to get?” The reply, “I don’t know. Let’s ask.” My reply, “A big smile and a hug from mom. But most of all the amazing feeling of knowing in their heart that they did it.”
Needless to say this brought looks of confusion and ‘is she crazy’ from the other children. Guess what my children were doing Blazing out the door and buckling in the van. Guess what I did? I took them all to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. Because sometimes, just sometimes, and always when it’s not expected, an external reward can help reinforce and nurture an internally sound and firmly planted principle.
My children have heard the rumblings of others that there should be a ‘real’ reward for them. They have never once asked. They like to feel good. Nothing can take that away from them. It stays with them forever waiting to be accessed on a difficult day to buoy them up and remind them how great life is and how good they feel about themselves. I can’t give them external rewards to remedy a lifetime of whatever is to come. I can’t buy them happiness. I can provide a lasting understanding that everything good comes from within.
Yay, for the Obedience Prize. Yay, for children that are capable of more than we often are willing to give them credit for, or are willing to allow them time to navigate. Yay, for oak tree mothers that understand first what is best, and never, ever, worry about how things might look to anyone else. Yay for motherhood!