Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Someone Lied to me

I have spent the past 13 years (maybe more), believing the greatest lie. I don't know who first told me this lie, but it has been propagated throughout my education, through society, by friends, and more. And I bought into it. Big time.

Someone convinced me that children are basically good. That they want to be good. That they desire to please their parents and teachers. Thus, our job as parents is to "bring out the best in them." According to popular culture, the ideal means for eliciting the goodness of our children is "positive reinforcement." Give them a goal, track incremental successes, and once the goal is attained they earn a prize. While this method works well for toilet training (which is something children actually desire to master), when applied to behavioral difficulties it will fail.

If you have relatively well-behaved children, you are likely gearing  up to post a comment on how well positive reinforcement works in your home. Let me tell you just how blessed you are. Those of us with children who are commonly referred to as "strong willed" do not necessarily share your success.

I was reminded of a truth recently that, I suspect, will forever change my parenting "strategy." We are all sinners who seek to fulfill the desires of our flesh. Every single one of us. Even children. We are not basically good at all! No, we are all basically evil. Even children. Just as we must die to self in order to be more Christ-like, so must our children. Our job as parents is to help them recognize their own sinfulness, to teach them that giving into that sinful nature brings forth dire consequences, and it is only in being self-controlled and God-controlled that we are truly free, content, and joyful.

Here's a quick example...

Imagine that you are a less-than-dedicated employee. You have a tendency to sleep in and arrive late for work. Which consequence is most likely to bring about lasting behavioral change?

Consequence #1 - Your boss draws up a chart to track your progress. Each day you come to work on time you get a gold star. Once you have 100 gold stars, you get a new car!

Consequence #2 - You are written up for your tardiness and your boss tells you that it is unacceptable to show up late. Next time you come in past 9am your boss tells you to pack up your office, then he/she walks away.

In option #1, you are being rewarded for NOT doing the wrong thing. And it will likely work...for a time. Once you've earned that car, though, how long before you are sleeping in again? (You may even begin thinking, "I wonder what I can earn next time?!") Option #2, on the other hand, would be devastating. You would experience all sorts of discomfort in many areas of your life as the result of losing your job. If/when you found a new job, how likely would you be to make promptness a priority?

Now if we are naturally that inclined toward selfishness and laziness, why would we be so foolish as to assume that our children are any better? After all, they too are descendants of Adam and Eve.

I've yet to process my new knowledge and translate it into practical terms for our family. But I have a feeling things are going to become very uncomfortable around here for five little people... With the ultimate goal, of course, being children that are well-behaved and happy. (After all, how many naughty children have you observed that actually appear to be happy?)

Have you ever heard a nugget of truth that completely changed the way you think about parenting? And did it ultimately have an impact on how you DO parenting?

* The example above, and the truths I am discovering, can be credited to John Rosemond and his book The Well-Behaved Child: Discipline that REALLY Works.

* Next on my parental reading list is Kevin Leman's Have a New Kid by Friday.


  1. You have said it well my friend! You could very much have been a fly on the wall at my house.

  2. Definitely read Kevin Lehman's book - I re-read his "Making Children Mind without Losing Yours" often. The idea of reality discipline (which you are alluding to in the example in your post) is wonderful. It works great with my four tornados as long as I can think fast enough to make it work!

  3. Hi!

    Thanks for the blog post.

    I'm wondering ... what is it your children do that shows their evil nature?

    Re parenting books--I really like Terry Brazelton's books. I also like Supernanny.

  4. Hello Anonymous,

    Thanks for your question. I do hope you come back and check comments or have subscribed to the comments. :) It's difficult to reply to anonymous comments, when I don't know who's asking, but I'll try my best.

    I think that my children's sinfulness is demonstrated at a very young age. Some examples:
    - covetousness, demanding the toy that someone else has
    - selfishness, refusing to share their toys with someone else
    - deceitfulness, lying about hitting a sibling or breaking a lamp in hopes of avoiding consequences.
    These are just a few things off the top of my head, that I see in them from an incredibly young age. As they get older, their sinful nature becomes even more evident.

    I also enjoy watching Supernanny, and find some of her tips helpful. Plus, it's just nice to know that I'm not alone; there are other families out there who sometimes feel like they're going bananas! :)

    I've never read Terry Brazelton, but I'll definitely take a look. What is it, specifically, that you like about his/her teaching?

  5. Hi! Thanks for your answer.

    Brazelton is big on the idea that children go through stages, and that we sometimes expect more advanced behavior of children than they're capable of. (I've only read one of your blog posts, so I'll just say here--in kind of a clumsy fashion--that I'm not suggesting you're guilty of this, and this isn't my reason for making this pt. It's just something I think about when I'm around kids, partly because of my own experiences, and it's one of the important things I got out of B's books.)

    From my own experience, I lived with a relative and helped out with her kids for several years. There were two boys in the family. I paid attention and noticed that I had expected more of the older one at a particular age than I did of the younger one, when he reached that same age.

    I think there were several reasons for this: (1) the older boy was always big for his age; the younger boy was small for his age. So at age 6, for example, the older boy just _looked_ more grown up. (2) I think a lot of adults automatically expect older kids to be helpful and protective of their younger siblings. The younger boy had no younger siblings, so that was a job he couldn't come up short on. (3) The older boy had a naturally more confrontational and independent attitude. The younger boy was very sociable and socially aware, so it came naturally to him to try and fit in with others. The older boy was more bent on trying to get his own way and arrange things to his own satisfaction, so there were many more occasions when he'd bump heads with me or the other grownups in the house.

    (I love them equally and they've both turned out great, by the way. They are wonderful young men now.)

    I think the size thing might be more important than a lot of people realize. (It's not something I would have thought about before I moved in with a family and saw their kids grow up.) I had friends who had twin boys who constantly amazed us with their beautiful behavior, kind and responsible natures, etc. The kids really were wonderful, but at some point I realized, Hey! Their parents are both under 5 feet tall. These are 12-yr-old boys who are the size of many 8-yr-olds. On some level I'm subconsciously comparing them to 8-yr-olds, not 12-yr-olds. So that was part of what was going on.

    Best wishes!

  6. Interesting. If anything, I'd have to say the opposite is true for me. I think I expect more from my six-year-old daughter now than I did from my nine-year-old daughter when she was six. Reason being, when there were only a couple kids, it was easy to just take care of things myself. Now that there are so many of them, I realized that I do need to give them responsibilities around the house, and with proper guidance they can do a lot more than I give them credit for.

    And hey, by all means, stick around and read a couple other posts. :)

    Bless you.


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