The discussion on a local radio station last month prompted me to write this blog. A mother was bribing her children by promising them extra Christmas presents if they performed chores around the house. The caller didn't mention the ages of the children, but what ensued as a result of the bribe was that the children were stepping up their chores by finding more and more tasks to complete in order to fill the space beneath the tree.
In my experience, "If … Then …," works only in the computer world. Children tend to take "if-thens" as a challenge, and some kids fold their arms across their chest in defiance at a parent who dares to challenge them in that manner.
When my own children were young, I tried the If-Then approach until I realized it didn't work. Bribes cost too much, for one thing. And if you set your children up to experience a Bribe Only world, they will expect others to offer them bribes to complete tasks too. They will think, "If I do this FOR you, what can I expect FROM you?" Children don't experience the sheer pleasure derived just from "giving" with that type of mindset.
If you prepare them for life in that manner, you set them up to believe that the world will give them whatever they want IF they behave a certain way. IF they don't, who cares?
Much better – and far more effective – is the After-Then approach:
After you put your toys away, we'll go to the park.
After you finish your homework, we'll play that game together.
After you finish your dinner, we'll make your favorite snack together.
The reward is not dependent upon whether or not they perform. It's understood, of course, but not dependent upon it. The wording loses its challenge.
By using the After-Then approach you give your children incentive to complete a task or finish a chore. They know that WHEN (not IF) they finish the task or chore, they will earn their reward.
Once you establish an After-Then situation, don't give in. If you say that AFTER they finish putting their clothes away, you'll take them to the zoo, and their clothes are sill sitting in the laundry basket, don't then take them to the zoo. Because by not following through, you give your children mixed messages and the next time you use the After-Then approach they will remember (they always remember) how easily they got away with NOT finishing the task the last time you suggested it. By not delivering on your promise, you have set your children up to believe that what you say doesn't matter.
When you state, quite logically, that after such and such comes such and such, you have to be willing to follow through using your own logic. If you're not willing to follow the logic, don't set the premise.
Positive reinforcement for jobs well done does wonders for children, so please don't include bribery.
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