“Duncan has taken to helping in the kitchen! He’s four and yet he can really do things! He made his own scrambled egg the other morning. I told him how impressed I was, and he made one for me!”
What fun it is to impress your parents! Duncan loves to help with cooking, doing a little on his own and having his parents say how great he is. One woman counselor I know speaking at a PTA meeting said every child, teen, and adult longs to hear their parent say, “You are the fine son/daughter I always hoped for; you’re doing a great job!” There was not a dry eye in the house. Evidently many had never had the experience.
Since parental approval is such an emotional high point, it is a shame some parents often begrudge their children “too much” reward. Reward and reinforcement are terms that may sound too mechanical because the words imply a contrived influence on behavior. But the most frequent reward children receive is the admiration and appreciation expressed by parents. Parents who are generous with these “rewards” are more effective.
Yet many are still uncomfortable with the notion that selfish benefit is required to get children, or anybody else, to do the right thing. “They should do it because it’s right, shouldn’t they? They know it’s good for them! They had better be glad they have a good home and a chance to learn and get ahead!”
Isn’t this the way we all feel sometimes? It seems unbelievable that kids would pass up an opportunity for personal growth or fail to contribute to the family out of appreciation for the care they get.
It’s children we’re talking about, of course. Employees who are asked to work a little longer or teachers asked to carry a larger load deserve rewards for their extra work. And our boss who expects something for nothing just doesn’t understand our personal economic situation!
As a matter of fact, the higher you go, the more reward is expected for any effort – managers and school principals don’t feel respected unless they make more money. Corporate officers and members of Congress worry that lower salaries for them would bring in people less competent than themselves; and CEO’s demand golden parachutes of stock options so they will have the “proper incentive” to do a good job up there on top. So the higher ups commonly get more money and appreciation while both money and appreciation become scarce for the “less deserving” and, of course, for the kids.
Some parents object to the idea of rewarding children because it might spoil them. But remember a spoiled child did not get that way because too much was provided. Many children in families with small incomes are spoiled, and many children with the benefits of wealthy families are not spoiled. The parent’s routine reactions to the child’s behavior determine the habits. Parents who pay attention to the highlights in what their children do, will find plenty of opportunity to provide a deserved compliment. But if obnoxious behavior is “required” to get attention, then obnoxious behavior will be the rule.
Dr. McIntire is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship to be published on September 15, 2016.