A mother I admire once advised me to use positive reinforcement (a payoff) at least as much as negative (I’ll make you pay!). But, like many parents, when I reward, I worry that I’m bribing.
Somehow, when I’m constantly harping and implementing lame consequences, I don’t worry that I’m being an ineffective jerk. No, I worry more about the famed dangers of bribing. As a parent, I have a lot of tools, but I do tend to just beat that one hammer–consequences.
But this great mom who has three kids who have turned out pretty decent thus far, actually pays her teenager to do the math competition at school, which he doesn’t want to do, because the team needs him. Her argument: In the real world, we sometimes get paid to do things we don’t want to do. At home, he doesn’t get paid, but why not make that connection when it makes sense?
Because, for me and most adults I know, “What’s in it for me?” is the standard consideration when something is asked of us. We work because we get a paycheck, or (if you are that superlucky person I haven’t ever met) because you get such great personal satisfaction from it. But I constantly fall into the trap of expecting my kids to do it for super lame esoteric reasons, like because it is the rule or I said so or it will make them better people, or I assume that my children are somehow transcendent, higher beings, that, unlike me and all the other adults I know, do good things for all the right reasons because they are inherently good and in harmony with man and nature.
You see, they will not litter because of their total respect for the earth, they will not hit their siblings because of the deep love they hold for them, they will eat what I cook and clean up after themselves because of their great gratitude for my efforts and hard work.
Now, if my children really acted that way, I would be convinced of alien conspiracy, yet I appear to mindlessly still hold to these expectations for my young, hapless kids, despite over three decades of human experience clearly showing that even most adults do not behave in this manner.
This is yet a further vindication of the Qualified Yes–the kids get a “yes” because they earn it with something, not just because it makes the world a better place. I will then blather on endlessly to them, as I often do, about the importance of making the world a better place. And over years, as they earn their yesses and hear my lectures, they will learn to work hard and be self-sufficient people with a subconscious programming that will make them the kind of people who actually will make the world a better place.
This is my sinister plan. Are you with me?