Reward Your Children (and let them know you love them)
As I've conversed with parents at various conferences as well as online, I've been surprised by how many of them admit that they correct their children way more than they reward them. Many of them confess they almost never reward their children for good behavior but focus almost exclusively on curbing or punishing bad behavior.
Then I think, "You really shouldn't be that surprised – that was you not that long ago and if we're being honest, you still struggle with that form of parenting." Ugh. It's true: poor behavior is generally more apt to get a response out of parents than good behavior. Perhaps because it's quicker, easier. Just shout a bit, threaten a consequence or two and the little flare of disobedience is extinguished (for the moment). Rewarding obedience? Who's got time for that?
Not that parents completely neglect to acknowledge good behavior, but often when children do something well a verbal "attaboy!" is all they get, (though some children don't even get that). "Attaboys" are nice and all, but the problem with verbal affirmation or a simple pat on the back in general is that it's weak on inspiration. "Inspiration" you might ask? Yes, inspiration.
Maybe your son or daughter is prone to being bossy or lazy or selfish (or all three)? I know from sad experience that dwelling on my children's flaws does very little to assist them in overcoming those flaws. Now, don't get me wrong. Consequences have their place; but if consequences are the only thing you're doling out to correct a character flaw, don't be surprised if it get's worse instead of better. Don't you also need to cultivate the flip side of that character flaw?
Consistent correction (and notice I didn't say yelling) is only half the battle. I'll go further than that – it might only be a third of the battle. Praise, encouragement, and blessing – these are the tools that we as parents ought to use more consistently and effectively to help inspire our children to do what's right.
So why do we tend to correct children more than we reward them? Good question. Is it because they do more things bad than good? Uh . . . maybe, depending on the child. But often I think it's because rewarding takes more work, more time, and more creativity than dousing little fires all day long with strict tones and stern looks.
That said, intimidating or threatening children into "obedience" is only efficient in the short term, but terribly ineffective in the long term particularly if you're doing little on the opposite end to encourage or incentivize right responses. Deep down we know that fostering good character habits is hard work. The really big ones (like telling the truth, caring for others, showing initiative, etc.) are like mountains and to scale them you need diligent, consistent, creative measures. No mere pat on the back will do.
So what will do? Well, this post won't attempt to entirely answer that question, but here's something that can help. As a small example, when I was a boy my parents encouraged me to put forth my best effort in grade school by promising a special reward at the end of the school year if I made straight A's. It was incredibly effective. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the trip home after the last day of school rivaled Christmas Eve for sheer excitement and anticipation, and it wasn't just because I knew I was going to get a water gun or a scooter.
Now that I'm older I can look back and see that the reward awaiting me at home told me something. It told me that my parents highly valued good grades and that they were very pleased and thankful when I earned them. One might easily dismiss such rewards as bribery but that charge is completely missing the point. To your children a reward is tangible proof that they've made you happy, that they've pleased you; and believe me, though they may not be able to articulate it, there is no greater reward to a child's heart than to know that they've pleased their parent(s).
Your children intrinsically love you. They have an innate desire to please you. Your approval is like sunshine to them; your disapproval like a cold wind. Sometimes the cold wind must blow to discourage disobedience, but it does so little to inspire true obedience.
One of the greatest threats to innocence in a child is the belief that they don't please their parents, or worse, that they disgust them. If this message is too frequently sent, whether it's intentional or not, it can prove a crushing blow to a child's heart. Many children, in order to escape the effects of this realization, begin to pretend as if they no longer care what their parents think of them. I've known many adults who stopped respecting and listening to their parents a long time ago but who, to this day, would do almost anything to be truly loved and cherished by their mom or dad.
Don't allow this to happen to you. It's crucial that your children know you love them and that you delight in them. We've heard it said many times that God loves us, but how do we know that he loves us and how do we know how much he loves us? "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) God has not simply patted us on the back or verbalized his love but has made it clearly manifest by offering us an unspeakable gift in and through the life, death, and resurrection of his only begotten Son.
The secret is sacrifice. If we extend blessings to our children in exchange for, or in response to, our children's obedience it sends an unmistakable message to them that we are "well pleased". Don't underestimate how precious your approval is to them and don't undervalue its influence in their life for good, particularly if it "costs" you something. God's love for us cost him everything. The least we can do is set aside some of our time, and yes even on occasion our money, to reward our children and thereby show our love for them.
(Next week's post will offer up some creative and unique ideas on how to reward or incentivize good behavior in your children. Stay tuned!)