Thursday, April 25, 2013

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

I have this fantasy that I can become a "broken-in" parent the first time around. After all, I've been around babies and children enough that I know how they tick, what works and what doesn't. But I know that many make all sorts of resolutions before actuality comes about, so parenting articles still take my fancy. 

The poor author, Bruce Feiler, is a father who has resorted to bribery, like any other parent. There comes a time, no matter how much one promises otherwise, where bribery is needed when dealing with offspring. But, like all rewarding tactics, overuse will blow up in your face. 
Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center, said the problem with incentives is they focus too much attention on the desired result instead of the behavior that leads up to the result. “You can’t throw rewards at behaviors that don’t exist and get them,” he said. “If someone says I will match your retirement fund if you perform a flamenco dance right now, my reaction is, ‘Great, but it turns out I can’t do that.’ You have to develop the behavior very, very gradually.”
Bribery is given with the hope that certain behavior will follow; when it comes to rewards, it should only be bestowed after the desired actions. Rewarding is okay, but only as a once-in-a-while
Mr. Pink said the problem with bribing is not the rewards; it’s the contingency, which is a form of control. “Human beings have only two reactions to control,” he said. “They comply or they defy. I don’t think most parents want compliant children, and I don’t think they want defiant children. They want children who are active, engaged and motivated by deeper things.” He recommends replacing what he calls if-then rewards with now-that rewards, meaning the prize is giving spontaneously and after the fact.  
Perhaps because it is the age of insecurity, but parents don't seem to realize how amazing they are to their children. Keep in mind children look at the world from a different viewpoint than the parents on high, seeing them almost as all-powerful deities.
While parents may make little of the strength of their praise, children thirstily absorb positive statements from their mom and pop. A few glowing words from their parents, to them, is more than enough
Dr. Dweck suggests parents make their praise specific, and focus on the process the child went through to achieve the behavior, not merely the behavior itself. “You could say, ‘I really liked the way you waited patiently for me to finish my phone call, because you understood that phone call was important,’ ” she said. “Or, ‘I really liked how you expressed gratitude to Grandma, just like you appreciate it when I thank you for doing something for me.’ ” 
The easiest phrase? "Big boy" or "big girl." Kids become ridiculously happy when one calls them that. "Oh, what a big girl, you cleaned up your crayons all by yourself!" It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Despite the fact they can own every toy that has graced the earth, their toothy grins show that there is a limit to the joy Playmobil can bring.

Kids are little mirrors, reacting and reflecting the behaviors they are exposed to. So Feiler's send-off can bear repeating more than once: 
While my New Year’s resolution started out as a way to get better results from my children, the real person I needed to retrain was myself.    

No comments: