Thursday, April 19, 2012

Artificial incentives: Aren’t they all?

My current strategy with my slackers:
Whatever it is I want them to do, I try to tie it to something that THEY want.
Whatever it is I want them to stop, I try to tie that to something they do NOT want.

Sticker charts and A+s work for some kids. And blank spaces in themselves may be punishment enough.

The other kids force me to be more creative as I try to motivate them. They need artificial incentives tied to a job well-done. For example, I might praise a cleaned room with an extra snack. I give out “computer time’ for time spent reading.  I take away TV time for arguing.

If life doesn't give them a consequence for doing something they should not, I create an artificial link. 

Carrot theory: Artificial Incentives and consequences
At first, I have to admit, I felt a little annoyed that some kids would need this “artificial incentive.” It is strange to me that not all children would do extra credit work just for the satisfaction of the A+. To be honest, I tend to judge people who need these sorts of “artificial incentives” to do what they should be doing anyway.  

Wait, was my motivation really so pure?

Why do I want them to get good grades, anyway? So their teachers like them? So I can praise them and be proud of them?

It seems to me like the right answer to this question should be:
I want my children to do their best, to learn all that they can, so that they can use their God-given talents to serve Him and others.

Was that my motivation, during those years I jumped through hoops in school?
Um, no.
Not even a little.
I just liked people’s approval. I liked to be right. I liked to have the high score.
Later, in college, I discovered a passion for learning, and I became a student (as opposed to a hoop-jumper.)
Later still, thanks to the work of God in me, I started to care about using what I learned for the good of others. 

Until that time, I was motivated by my own artificial incentive: people’s approval.

Quite the humbling realization.

So, even I have not risen above the need for a carrot or two. And I do not believe my children have, either.

Our Carrots
Here are a few of the current carrots in our home: kindle time, night jumps on the trampoline, all day TV-channel-picking privileges, nap skipping, sleepovers, and food. Lots and lots of food. (extra food, not meals!)

Consequences: extra cleaning jobs, acorn running, solitary confinement, loss of privileges, and so forth. (Reminder to myself and you: The lecture, in and of itself, only counts as a consequence for the people-pleasing child. A frown is not a punishment.)

Isn’t this just “behavior modification,” and doesn’t it completely miss the more important issues of the heart?
None of these strategies actually teach a child to love God and serve his neighbor.
It is my opinion that ONE of my jobs as mother is merely to help modify a child’s behavior.
This is not my only job, and not the most important job, but a job nonetheless.

Passion draws the heart.
Consequences nip at the ankles.
God uses mom’s hands in both areas.

Tell me, what do you think about artificial incentives?
Do you use carrots in your home? What kind?
And... isn't parenting EXHAUSTING?

More to come, including: Digging for passion, nipping at ankles, and slacker strengths.

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  1. Both my husband and I were/are people pleasers, so to end up with a slacker who is hard to motivate is tricky. Still trying to figure it out. And praying it's not too late.

    I'll have to think about some carrots. He loves carrots! Maybe carrots themselves will do the trick!?

    1. Jenny
      any luck finding some carrots that work?
      I have been smiling all week thinking about you using ACTUAL carrots!!!

      Prayers for you ... it is not too late.

  2. I say yes to artificial incentives. The hard part with some children, as you've said, is finding something they really want. It may not be something that would motivate me, but if it motivates them, and it's not something bad for them, or really too expensive, I'll use it for motivation. CS Lewis wrote about proper and improper rewards. By improper, he did not mean bad. He meant a more immediately enjoyable reward. He used the example of a schoolboy learning Greek. The proper reward of learning Greek, is being able to read Greek. But the schoolboy, doesn't care about that, so he doesn't want to study. He needs a more immediate, enjoyable reward, what Lewis called an improper reward, to motivate him to study. If CS Lewis said people need rewards, like this, I think it's fine. We all enjoy rewards. Good luck.

    1. Yes, I have read that from Lewis! Thank you for reminding me!

      I mean are there ANY kids (even nerds) that study Greek for the joy of learning to read the classics in Greek?

      Oh wait. I think I remember some of those types from college. They do exist, at Hillsdale at least!


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