Many parents think that some sort of painful punishment is the best motivator for kids to improve their behavior. Other parents “focus on the positive” and offer rewards when kids do well.
Research about what motivates workers to do well reveals that extrinsic rewards are less important than intrinsic motivation, and that a key element of intrinsic motivation includes a sense of progress – that you are on track and moving in the right direction.
Could it be that progress motivates children also? Consider Shelly’s grace-filled story.
This morning my four year-old-son Garrett strongly offended his siblings during play. When he knew a consequence for his behavior was coming he immediately became angry and went stomping away from me. I smiled at him and very sweetly asked him to come back, and he sheepishly walked toward me.
The “discipline” was to be separated from the play time for a while… but before the separation began, I sat Garrett down, held his face and gently said with a little (not too big) smile, “When you were a toddler you used to walk into the room and DESTROY what everyone else was doing, and you did it several times a day! I can see how much you’ve improved in loving others now that you’re bigger. You messed up just now and you need to spend some time away from your brother and sisters because of it. I want you to know though, there is no mess up too big that would ever make me stop loving you or love you less. I love you so so so much.” He tearfully accepted my forehead kiss and meekly went upstairs.
I was filled with joy as I thought about that interaction with my son. Garrett had laughed when I told him about his destructive toddler days. And there wasn’t a bit of shame in his tear-filled eyes. He just felt sad that he had ruined the play for the others and he WANTED to live up to his “loving people better” (which was absolute truth ~ he has grown SO much in this area). He had an incredibly positive morning when he returned from his cool down time.
There were some wonderful elements in how Shelly dealt with this. Consider how clearly she communicated the four powerful messages of Discipline that Connects®:
- You are SAFE with me. (“I am for you, not against you.”)
- You are LOVED no matter what. (“…respectful behavior or not.”)
- You are GOD’S WORKMANSHIP – called and capable. (“You are growing in your love for others.”)
- You are RESPONSIBLE for your actions. (“When you mistreat others you lose the privilege of being with them until you are ready to interact well with them.”)
Apply It Now:
What is a frequent behavior challenge of my child?
What progress have they made that I often overlook when they have a hard time?
How could I encourage them the next time they struggle in that area?
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