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.