As a [mostly] stay-at-home mom, these four kids are my whole world…and they require TONS of my time and energy, which is bad because I’ve been sleep-deprived and short-tempered for the past two months.
Now that I’ve had my fourth baby, I can confirm that my favorite Jim Gaffigan quote is 100% correct…
I’m not kidding, folks. It’s been rough.
The Parenting Problem
Specifically, I’ve been struggling with correcting bad behavior [or in other words, getting my kids to do what I want them to do].
Until recently, our method was simple: disobedience or other bad behaviors resulted in a time-out or the loss of a privilege [treat after dinner, screen time, special activity, etc]. But it has turned into me constantly threatening the kids with consequences that end up being consequences for me too – which only makes me more upset.
I began to feel like I needed to switch to motivating with positive reinforcement. Otherwise, it feels like I am constantly taking things away from them – or threatening to do so.
But I didn’t know how to make the switch. It wasn’t like I could give my kid a cookie every time he or she did something kind or obeyed right away.
The A-Ha Moment
It suddenly occurred to me one night as I was trying to get my kids to lay quietly in their beds that by changing my wording, I could turn the consequence into a reward.
So instead of saying, “lie down and be quiet or you’ll lose your video tomorrow,” I said “if you lie down and stay quiet, then you’ll get to watch a video tomorrow!”
Strangely enough, it worked.
So now, instead of saying, “pick up your room, or you can’t go outside,” I say, “everyone who helps to pick up their room will get to go outside to ride bikes!”
Instead of saying, “if you don’t finish your dinner, you won’t get ice cream,” I say, “if you eat your last three bites, then you’ll get to have ice cream!”
I’m not sure why we always resorted to threatening a punishment when we could have just changed our phrasing and offered a reward. Nothing we are doing has changed. We have just changed the way we present the choice to them.
It’s too early to tell whether I’m actually getting more consistent good behavior from the kids, but it’s already making me less crabby.
Rewarding feels so much better than handing out [and enforcing] consequences. Now I don’t always have to be the bad guy.
The One Caveat
Of course, this doesn’t work after a bad behavior has already happened. There are definitely times when a consequence is necessary, but a lot of parenting is trying to motivate kids to behave better and I don’t know about you, but my kids are much more motivated by rewards than by threats.
In general, my kids are great. Of course, they have their moments, but I’m not trying to make it sound like they are always terribly behaved. But as they grow older, I am facing new behavioral challenges and I often feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.
Any and all advice in this area is appreciated!