There is a large body of research on the efficacy of rewards and punishments short-term and long-term, and based on my reading on the topic, rewards and punishments are only minimally effective short-term. Long-term, the effects can be completely opposite of the initial intention in altering a child's behavior - if obedience is the goal, rebellion often follows; if the goal is "making good choices," children often lose their sensitivity to choosing anything because the "good" choice is always made by the parent, and so on. Kohn asserts in his writing on the topic, that we might spank a child to alter a behavior in the moment (to go to bed, to sit quietly in a restaurant, etc), and when the "consequence" does not work (short or long term) we determine that what we need is... are you ready for this... more of exactly the same ineffective consequence. It is also worthwhile to mention that Kohn considers rewards and praise to be equally ineffective (and even as damaging) as punishments, so when he says spanking, he would just as well say the same about a sticker or lollypop.
After some reflection and feeling very obstinate to even consider the possibility that I would think in such a pattern, I've started to think he might be on to something. When Dominic does not respond well to a gentle direction at bed time, I increase the intensity of the
So, how do you "handle" these "defiant" little beasts you carried in your womb for 9 months?! (the world may never know... just kidding) Kathleen's suggestions (consistent with Kohn's, and consistent with what has been working at our house lately) are as follows:
- Establish a consistent routine that works for your family (these are the things that will happen within xyz timeframe).
- Make sure the child has plenty of information - it is dark outside, it is 8:00 now and bedtime is at 8:30 in 30 minutes, you need enough sleep tonight so you can feel healthy and ready for school in the morning, sleep helps your body to grow strong, etc.
- Ask the child what needs to happen within the scope of the routine - shirt or pants first, book or tooth brushing next, one book and two songs or two books and one song, what prayer will we do tonight, etc. Ask LOTS of questions, and try to avoid making demands (do this, do that). "Oh, do you have a different idea (of what is next, of what to read, of which pjs to wear)?" is possibly my favorite concrete suggestion from the lecture!
- Give children the space and time they need to do the next thing - they are still taking in and learning the way their world works, and because of this they need more time to process things that seem simple to an adult who has been on the planet 8 (or more) times longer than they have!
- If you feel it necessary to "praise" what they have accomplished DON'T PRAISE (rewards are just as damaging as punishments), offer a concrete observation to affirm the work your child is doing: "You worked hard to get your arms into your pjs," "it took a lot of work to get all the blocks into the bucket," "you put your clothes in the hamper," "you made a lot of choices to get dressed for bed." By giving feedback with clear and precise observations, children can reflect on what it is they have ACTUALLY done and they can focus on the accomplishment, itself. When we bombard children with "good job" or "yay yay yay," we place the focus on our parental judgement of xyz action, and truly, how serious can we be when we say "good job," if we say it about everything from urinating to solving long division problems? (GUILTY... I am looking at myself and NOT pointing a finger here, be not alarmed) We want our children to do these things because they can/ they need to, not because they make mommy happy enough to dole out a "great job, kiddo!"
By involving children in the process with open questions rather than closed demands (what book will you get, will you put on the blue or red shirt, vs. put the shirt on now, go get the book now, brush your teeth, etc), they get a sense of that AUTONOMY that is one of their major needs. They experience a RELATIONSHIP of respect and support that is modeled by the parents. The child has a greater chance of feeling COMPETENT because he is working within a framework that gives many opportunities for success in tasks he knows how to do and tasks he is learning how to do - the child is an effective member of the family community and an active participant in the routine instead of being a passive subject to the routine and a mere passenger in the life of the family.
Children (up to age 6) take in everything they experience in the family wholly, and modeling respect, support, and love is the best way to ensure our children will grow to value and emanate those qualities in their own relationships down the road. I've noticed myself at times
*I have to say that blogging every day for 30 days is SUPER ambitious for a long-winded thinker like myself. I'm going to say that it is more likely for me to post every other day... but I will also attempt to be less long-winded, and more frequent in my posts... Thanks for being such a cool reader... "good job?"