Yogurt or me?

May 4, 2012, 2 Comments

Earlier during lunch, my elder son told me he was full, with what seemed like less than a mouthful to go. I suddenly recalled there was yogurt in the refrigerator and turned around and told him, “I will let you have the yogurt if you finish the noodle.” Opps, the moment I uttered those words, I knew it. I bribed again.

According to Wikipedia dictionary, Bribery, is an act of implying money or gift giving that alters the behaviour of the recipient and a reward is often money, offered as an incentive.

So I decided to run a test between my boys, aged 3 and 5 year old. I asked them as I was doing the dishes. I asked my 3 yr old, “Which do you think is more important? Obeying mummy or having yogurt?” He gave a resounding “Yogurt!” and proceed to help himself to another mouthful of noodles nonchantly.

I asked my 5 year old next, “Which do you think is more important? Obeying mummy or having the yogurt?” And he said, “Obeying mummy”. I pushed him further and asked him “Why is obeying mummy more important?” And he said “because it is good.”, I went “why is it good?” and he said “because the Bible says obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” I went on to explain to him, “Sometimes something may seemed really attractive , like yogurt, it is something you like and taste nice. But if having something nice cause you to disobey your parents, then it becomes a bad thing. When we disobey our parents, we will not receive blessing that comes with obedience.”

Back to bribery, I know. Too many of us have mis-used it to the point of no return. I was just pondering why bribery is so powerful that it becomes the sheer motivation that a child would do anything to get it. Hence my question earlier to my two boys.

The difference in my younger boy is that he could not ‘percieve’ what obedience is like, whereas a yogurt is so much more concrete and sweet and cold and flavoured with strawberry, mango and wonderful berries and REAL! I don’t think any young child could resist that! I do not think I train them any differently, in fact my younger son, who is naturally a lot more persistent than my elder son was able to comply 80% of the time. Thankful I did not suffer any terrible 2s or 3s. (still crossing my fingers!)

So while bribery seemed to give us parents the result or the behaviour we hope to see, it would not sit as a parenting methodology for long.  Bribery works in ways that is tit-for-tat. There is always a clause,  and it always comes with strings attached. There is always an “if” and “when” before a child to evaluates if the proposition is in his favour before he acts according to what is required. In that sense, there is no constant or real obedience because the goal post always move!

There is no standardised principle to gird the child in right or wrong.  James Dobson aptly describes ‘standard’ as the line separating the lanes in the swimming pool.  When  child is train to swim within those lanes, even when it is removed, he knows how to swim within it.

I know that some 3 year old are not fully able to appreciate the importance of obedience. Often a toy or a place seems so attractive, nothing can help him understand why mummy or daddy is not allowing him to venture forward. In their ever exploding curiosity to learn and explore, it is such a fine line parents had to tread to ensure they are safe, yet being able to grow into their potential isn’t it?

With training our 3 year old, we require first time obedience with short explanation why certain things need to be done. Self-control training is the very first character training we focus on. Because self-control forms the foundational habit for all other skills in life. Self-control or attentiveness is needful for academic learning, for pursuing a passion or in not giving up when a child faces a challenge. It is not letting a hand hit out when one is angry, or be able to sit quietly and wait when required.

So aged 3 and below, mummy’s word would be final. And the habit of self-control would help the child submit or comply to it. Most 2 or 3 year olds are not able to grasp abstract concept. So work with concrete ones when possible.  We may say “Mummy says no” or “come here” and that should be enough. I always like to offer an explanation that is to help me bridge their understanding. I would say to a 2 year old, “Mummy says no playing here, it is dangerous” , but I may say to a 3 or 4 year old “mummy says no playing here, because the water is too deep and you may fall in”

So do I ever reward? Or am I the Tiger mum under sheepskin? Hahah… we play a game called the “I caught a good thing you do” at home. When I asked that the toys be kept and the child does it cheerfully and quickly, I would sometimes call them aside and tell them “I caught a good thing you did” and offer them a sticker. The rule of the game is simple, if you do something right and you asked for a reward, then it would be forfeited.

Reason is kids would do all sorts of things to get something they like and it wouldn’t be a true test of heart. Thankfully, their mummy is alot smarter than that!

If kids come to the table for meals and they were polite with one another, particularly if they were going through a season of training to learn to discuss and speak kindly to one another, I made it a point to pay attention to “good fruits” and surprise them with a reward. No monetary reward at the stage, I need it for myself! ?

So for younger kids, teach compliance with your word as the final authority. No bribery, no threats. I need to remind myself of that too! Transition to obedience from the heart happens around aged 3 or 4 depending on a child’s maturity. All the best!

Parenting principles taken from Growing Families International – The Toddler Transition (parenting your 18 -36mth old) Author conducts The Toddler Transition parenting course in her spare time.

2 Responses to “Yogurt or me?”

  1. littlebluebottle says:

    sigh, I bribe all the time. Sometimes I look at it as “incentives” but I guess there’s a fine line that we need wisdom to discern. :) But incentives really work with my kids – even stops them crying about a booboo.:)

    • admin says:

      Hey littlebluebottle,
      I fall into this once too often, having to steady myself and tell myself not to do it again. it was said kids learnt the most by modelling, it should not come as a surprise if they ‘bribe’ us back and then carry on to ‘bribe’ others as they grow into their adult years. The problem with bribing is that it alters behaviours to match the reward and does not result in a change of heart which is a true sign of character. :(

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