Sunday, January 5, 2014

Day Five: Reward Systems

Ah, the ever debatable reward system! Here is where parents and educators differ on a few levels. Some agree with giving children rewards for good behavior or motivation for learning and some prefer to foster intrinsic motivation, to name a couple. I don't think either is right or wrong. When I first became a parent, topics like this one became cause for heated discussion. We were all just trying to figure out parenting together, reading and researching, trial and error. I believe now that the best thing to do is to never judge another mother, especially one whose children are older than your own... you'll find yourself in the same place one day and likely be just as confused as your momma-friend was :)  
My husband and I laugh when we remember back to the days when we had one toddler. Our fondest memory of our parenting woes was right smack in the centre of Sea World. Meghan was twenty-three months old and every time we turned around, she had "Houdini-tricked' her way out of her stroller and was off and running. Now, being the consistent parents we were at the time, we continually strapped her right back in (we'd been warned not to give in) and with two of us attempting to position her, hold her and buckle her seat belt, we were a sweaty mess as her tiny arms and legs flailed and she threw a tantrum that would make you feel sorry for us.... I hope. Needless to say, we were exhausted with the whining and screaming that day and, of course, concerned for her safety. When we'd calculated she'd sat long enough to not mock us, we'd let her out, praising her for the one minute she'd been distracted by a dolphin (we were grasping, I know). Immediately, our strong-willed girl would fearlessly dart once again and we were off chasing her--our little girl laughing all the way.
It was at the manatee lagoon that we came upon the most curious sight. A small boy writhed on the pavement, arms and legs doing crazy things, just like our daughter, and he was screaming and crying. Approximately two feet away, his mother leaned against a pole "reading" a Sea World map and completely ignoring him! We couldn't believe our eyes! She looked so calm and she wasn't sweating. How was there such peace on her face while her son was obviously working very hard to get her attention? We gazed upon our new mentor with renewed vigor. That was the beginning of our more relaxed parenting--that didn't come naturally, but we worked hard to achieve--and prayed for... a lot!
Of course, with each consecutive child and gender, discipline and rewards warranted reconsideration every few months and what worked with one did not work with another. In general though, we have been able to be consistent with a few methods. My intention for this post is not to give you a list of disciplinary suggestions, rather, to share a couple of ideas for motivating your kiddos in their learning.
Our favourite reward as a family is our "read a book for hot chocolate" prize. The important matter here is to make sure your child is reading at a level that challenges them.  Each book my children can narrate to me after completion, is served with the warm drink in winter and sometimes even in summer (although they may choose frozen lemonade). This began as a date with Mommy to the local cafĂ© but can end up being a chocolaty mess on the kitchen counter if a child doesn't want to wait until I'm ready to take them somewhere. Either is fine with me since it's all about helping them feel rewarded. Now truly, only my grade one child still needs external motivation. The other three read for pleasure and understand that their reading must be done in order to get through their schoolwork. Nevertheless, it is a special thing for our family to do and so we continue.
Every so often, when school becomes a little mundane and the children are antsy and fighting for what seems to be a few weeks, my husband and I announce that we're going back on our "points system". This is a "game" that we play to get the kids speaking kindly to their siblings and respectfully to their parents. It's a reward system for their chores and for quietly and quickly completing schoolwork. Each child gains or loses points according to their conduct and speech and the points are redeemable for special prizes such as an abnormal trip with Daddy or an ice cream stop with Mommy. It could be as desired as a cousin sleepover or as normal as not having to do chores for one day. Yes, even our fourteen year-old is involved. It's amusing to hear our kids encourage each other by saying, "Hurry! Tell Mommy you'll obey and say, 'My pleasure, Mommy!' You want more points!"
However, it's impossible to live this way long-term and because we want to demonstrate grace in our parenting and for them to show mercy to one another, this is always a short-lived method. It helps us regain our good habits, manners and routines. Once this is achieved, we end the point collecting and resume regular life. There have been a few times when our children have announced that it's time to get back to points. That's when you know it works and they feel more at peace with the boundaries! We've had our children's friends beg their parents to do points in their homes after watching ours in action :)
Obedient children who learn independently is definitely the goal, however, behavior modification for a much easier life is not. What does that mean? Well, our most important reason to train our children in the way they should go is for them to grow in Godliness and honour their Father in heaven (Proverbs 22:6). His grace and mercy far exceed any we may demonstrate as parents and we must continually lead them back to the knowledge that God loves and accepts them regardless of their behaviour--He sent His Son before while we were still sinners! (Romans 5:8).  However, He does ask us to walk obediently in accordance with His Word and so we ask for wisdom in discovering effective ways to foster character qualities in our children as they learn to listen to the Holy Spirit's voice.
What reward systems do you use? Do you even believe in adhering to one? It's a personal thing that must work for your family. Our family runs much smoother when we implement one now and then. I'd love to hear what works for you!


1 comment:

Heather@Cultivated Lives said...

Love, love, love the balance here. This is a fresh reminder of how much "art" there is in parenting. It is certainly not a hard and fast - do this to produce x results in our children scenario.

I tend to pull out "reward systems" for short periods and closely defined goals to help establish habit.