Taking a time out from stickers

I’m annoyed. I’m annoyed, and I might regret writing a blog post while annoyed, and I know I might even soften up to this thing that has me annoyed later on, but since I’m a pajama-ed mother in a venting mood tonight, I’m just going to go with this feeling, and write what’s on my mind. And here it is: What in the world is with all these rewards and prizes and presents and “if you do what you’re supposed to do, then I’ll buy you a doll or a pony or give you something to eat that is horrible for you?” What ever happened to simply expecting kids to behave, or at least make a reasonable effort at behaving because they are human beings who need to learn to be good and kind and smart and capable and enjoyable to be around? What about that?

Let me back up here, and say this: I love a good potty training for chocolate chip system. I appreciate a warm batch of cookies baked as a thank you for a child’s willingness to be an extra good helper one week, and buying a new puzzle for a kid who finally took the initiative and cleaned up all of her toys on her own for ten days straight makes a lot of sense to me. That said, I think it can be easy to go overboard on the reward system. A new toy for reading extra books here, candy for a clean room, more candy for working hard at sports practice, extra dessert for helping a sibling with school work, stickers for not talking during class, coupons for ice cream for obeying the teacher, snacks in exchange for a few minutes of silence, extra movie watching time if you will just please oh please let mommy talk to daddy for a minutes, a dinner out for learning all of the week’s spelling words, and the list goes on and on and on until what we have are some heavily rewarded kids who will do anything for a treat, as long as the treat is shiny or sweet enough.
Rewards can be great. I mean, if what we are trying to do is raise wonderful little humans who will one day be wonderful old humans, then a reward system can prepare little ones for being rewarded or missing out on perks in the work place and in life in general, BUT rewarding for every little thing is just setting kids up for…..what?….a lifetime of sitting on the bench until some great big incentive is offered up, and then and only then will a person get up off the bench and do something? What happens between all of the prizes? Nothing….just waiting, letting other people live and do and accomplish and pursue and dream and be kind and good and do what needs to be done or what can be done.
So here’s what I’m thinking. I’m going to try my best to refrain from words like “if you do this, then you’ll get….”, and I’m going to try to say more words like “you need to do this” or “do this please.” No more “because”, no “if”, no “and”….just a requirement followed by an expectation. An expectation because I believe in my kids. I love them, and I think they are fabulous and capable, and though they don’t always behave or complete or follow through, I know that they can. And they’ll see my expectations, and my hope, and I really do think they will feel loved and honored because of the faith I have in their decision making abilities and in their hearts and in their goodness. And when they don’t accomplish what I would like for them to accomplish, then we will keep working at it, and they’ll keep feeling loved even if there is some correction waiting on them. When accomplishments are made, then they will be rewarded with smiles and hugs and praise and all the good kinds of feelings that doing good things brings, and sometimes, I may surprise them with a little thank you, a trip to the coffee shop for tea with honey or a new pair of silly socks or an exciting chapter book. But hopefully, those tokens of my appreciation will be a bonus, something to brighten their day, something unexpected, not a payment owed to them. Not something that is theirs to take, rather than someone else’ to give. I want good things for my kids. I do. I just don’t want all the things in the world for them all the time. I want them to love doing good things, not just love rewards at the end of good things. And maybe a reward system will work its way into our home and school every now and then, but it will be small and seasonal and short lived enough that it will be, hopefully, special and not expected.
You know, I started out this blog post annoyed, and now I’m hopeful. We can do this, right? I know I won’t cut out all of the rewards in their lives, but hopefully when those rewards come, they will appreciate the reward more, and appreciate the hard work they did to get that reward. Just like I’m hoping against hope that they will appreciate the treasures they already have. With a closet full of toys, why of why, would they require more stuff before they decide to do what they should do? More stuff doesn’t make a good child. This is basic, this is simple, and I’m betting this is pretty undisputed, so why not live according to this truth. You want to be educated, then read and write and compute. You want to play an instrument, then practice. You want to be a fun person to be around, then be kind and sensitive to the feelings of others. You want a sticker for that?….then the accomplishment just may not be worth enough to you, and that is the thing that needs to be worked on – finding value in hard work, success, and polishing talents. If my kid doesn’t want to work on her reading, then I hope I can find ways to show her the value of reading, rather than putting value on something else entirely, like a new doll earned by half-heartedly reading twenty books. That’s not fixing the problem, only putting it off, to be dealt with or ignored on another day. I want to fix the problems we come across in our family. I want to, and I hope I can, but if I can’t, then there will be consequences of some sort, I’m sure of that, and if I can fix problems that arise, then I pray I’m happy to live in that success, rather than holding out my hand at the end of a long day, hoping someone will put something sugary into it for all of my hard work.