Ok folks. This seems to be coming up a lot. Maybe I’m attuned to it, but I seem to be hearing this a lot lately. I see it a lot with that Elf on a Shelf. If you have one, get rid of it. Yes, I feel that strongly about it. It utilizes manipulation in order to get our kiddos to do something we want. It is ALL about extrinsicly motivating kiddos. It’s creepy and it’s fear based.
And I get it: we parents are tired and under resourced. Under stress, we default to what parenting strategies our parents used with us. We want something easy and quick. I get that.
But I am telling you, if you start focusing on INVESTING your time and energy into practicing some “Compassionate connection” strategies, you will soon see how SIMPLE it is. No, not always EASY. But the more and more you practice these, the more you build up that neuro pathway in your brain and CONNECTING with your child will become your default. You’ll see what a HUGE difference this makes in your relationship with your child. AND you’ll notice a difference in your child. Want a child to have faith in himself? Want a teen to go within and sense for him or herself what is the right decision? Want to nurture a child to become an adult who knows their passions and gifts, feels confident, and owns their life? LIMIT YOUR EXTRINSIC REWARDS.
What’s the big deal with utilizing extrinsic rewards?
Using rewards actually BACKFIRES. Research shows that kiddos do LESS of the behavior when they have been extrinsically rewarded!
Check out this article from Aha Parenting http://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/Bribery_versus_Incentives_and_Win_WIn_solutions/
Here is a great easy-t0read, short article. http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/rewards.html.
I thought these two studies were interesting. http://www.oncourseworkshop.com/motivation004.htm.
Here is a GREAT website to have on your bookmarks. http://www.handinhandparenting.org/
Ok, so what do you do instead?
Well, let me start with an example. Years ago, we were at the pediatrician’s office. It was one of those appointments where my son was going to get a few shots. The nurse came in and was like, “Oh, today’s appointment is a hard one! But it’ll be over soon and maybe mommy will take you to McDonald’s because you were so brave!”
What do YOU think the problem with this was?? And don’t even get me started on using FOOD as a motivator!
INSTEAD of taking our son to McDonald’s, or giving him a toy or REWARDING him with any THING (or even a COMMENT from me such as: “Yes, you ARE so brave!” Which, research shows, too, has a negative impact on a child’s sense of self-worth and negatively impacts behavior!), I FOCUSED ON CONNECTING WITH HIM. I focused on being PRESENT with him, letting him know I was here with him and for him. I DID NOT let the nurse hold him down (think: “trauma producing”). I told the nurse how we’d do it. YES, you heard that right — I told the nurse how we’d do it based on how I knew my child and what would work best for him. That meant: slowing down the appointment, not doing all the “scheduled” shots but the number I felt comfortable with, giving him a sense of empowerment by asking him what he needed, giving him information about the process (this was done WAAAY beforehand by reading to him about going to the doctor and letting him “practice” giving me shots), and letting him jump up when he was finished and move around and “let loose”, if you will.
Don’t get caught in our specifics. These were things we did based on knowing our son. The bottom line is instead of using extrinsic rewards, here are some ideas:
1. FOCUS ON CONNECTING WITH YOUR CHILD.
“I see you are hurting. I’m here with you.” Or for less dramatic times than shots, like dealing with a messy room, TALK TO THEM. LISTEN to them. Share how you feel. Illicit their help in problem solving based on what everyone’s needs are. (Get real with yourself. What’s the REAL reason you want your child’s room to be clean?)
2. Model the behavior you want.
I was in the car the other day and the kiddos were not getting along. I had it. I was done. I turned around and started yelling at them, “Aidan, I’m sick of you not being kind to your sister! This has been going on all day! Enough! Start being kind to her NOW!” What do you think happened?! Clara started crying and said, “Mommy is angry.” I looked in the rear-view mirror and Aidan was sinking down into his carseat — he felt horrible…about HIMSELF. Yes, what irony: I was wanting Aidan to be kinder and here I was yelling and threatening. Don’t do that! Instead… GET A GRIP. This was all really about my OWN stuff (that’s another post) and I was tired (read: “not resourced”). Instead, what would’ve been more helpful would have been to turn on some good music, start acting silly, illicit Aidan’s help in starting a game we could play. I recognized this in the moment of yelling. What did I do? See #5 below. And then I said to the kiddos: “Let’s have a redo. I was mad. I am tired. I’m sorry. Clara, I see you are upset. Aidan, I see you scrunched down. I don’t want that. Can we regroup? It’s been a long car ride. Let’s put on some good xmas music and sing along. How would that be?” And it went MUCH smoother.
3. Ask yourself, WHY DOES MY CHILD NEED BRIBERY or a REWARD for this behavior??
Really spend some time here. Is it because I’m too exhausted (or stuck in a “shame cycle”) to be present with them?
4. Dialogue with your child about the intrinsic rewards.
Ask, “How do you feel when you share your book with your sister?” Get them into their own bodies and hearts to notice what their internal experience is…and learn to trust it. TALK to them about what’s HARD about doing their homework right after school. TELL THEM about how you feel when you put your keys and purse and coat away right when you get home and the “reward” you get: ie, you can find your stuff again and you don’t have to worry about losing them.
5. Ask yourself, “What is it I want?” And: “What’s really going on here?”
Underneath the desire you have for your child to behave or certain way, there may be some hidden unmet need of YOURS going on. When we use punishment or manipulation or cruelty, some part of us feels threatened, like we don’t have control, and fearful. GET TO THE ROOT OF THAT!
My example from the car: I was TIRED. I had a long day and I needed a break. Underneath the exhaustion was this thought: “Oh god, I’m a crappy parent. I must be doing something wrong. Otherwise he wouldn’t be acting like that.” AND: “Oh my gosh, he’s going to do this for the rest of his life. “ AND: “He must feel like crap about himself and I must have failed him as a parent.” That’s all MYYYYYYYY stuff. Not my son’s. THAT is what was really all motivating my REACTION (vs. response).
(*People often want to know what I do in that situation — when I recognize what’s really going on under the surface. I try to pause. I sloooooooow everything down. I offer myself presence. I offer myself compassion. And that ALWAYS – yes always – results in opening up the space to then have compassion for others).
Ok, those are a few thoughts for this evening. Put the elf thing away. You don’t need it. Your children don’t need it. They just need you. They need you resourced. They need your kind eyes and safe presence.