Thursday, June 10, 2010

Motivating Good Behavior

I took Aydon to the doctor yesterday for his two year checkup (two months too late, but asi es la vida).

I was very nervous because our last doctor visit, at 18 months, was a disaster. I recall that I cringed as Aydon screamed and fought his way off the scale and pushed the nurse's hand away when she tried to take his temperature. I endured more crying as we waited for the doctor in a tiny room...luckily, he decided nursing would comfort him, finally, and he calmed down. I realized that he was just so scared and didn't realize what was going on. That was at 18 months.

This time around, I decided to "play" doctor with Aydon before we left the house for the appointment. First, we used the thermometer. I explained that it would tell me if he was sick or not as we put it under his arm. I let him hold the thermometer and examine it. We practiced what it would be like to be laid on the scale and measured (I'm not sure when they start letting him stand on the scale? but anyways...). We practiced several times, and I had him tell me the steps before I acted them out. I told him that then we would see the doctor, who would check his ears, mouth, etc. I told him that he would get one shot that would hurt a little bit. After all of this, he was super excited, LOL.

And....the appointment went swimmingly! He laid so calmly on the scale. He waited while the nurse took his temperature. He glared suspiciously at the pediatrician, but relaxed as the checkup progressed...he even gave the ped (who is incidentally very good with Aydon) five when he left. The shot wasn't fun...but it was over very fast...and the tears dried up quickly, with no hyperventilating.

Of course, I also made sure that he was well fed before the appointment, so no low blood sugar came into play. And all children are different, and all ages are different, so I may have to try something new to keep doctor's visits successful, but I was so excited about this appointment.

I realize how amazing being proactive is to motivate good behavior. It is so true that kids who feel good, usually act good.

This is just one small proof that rewards and punishments are not the best tools to motivate behavior. I have seen parents bribe their children at the doctor's office: "If you behave, you can have candy." The problem with this is that if the child misbehaves, the reward goes out the window, and the child no longer has a reason to behave. I have seen so many desperate parents pretend not to notice misbehavior so that they can still dangle the reward in front of their child...also diminishing the effect of the reward. I have also heard parents use the threat: "If you don't behave, you are going to get it." I have seen said parents pinch, slap, and yell at their misbehaving children during the appointment. This is also rarely effective...the parents are usually not consistent (perhaps they use empty threats or have too many children, perhaps they really don't want to inflict pain on their child but don't know what else to do). These parents are almost always at odds with their children, and leave the appointment at their wits end.

Another reason that rewards and punishments don't work is that these fail to address the underlying causes of the misbehavior: too often the children are tired, hungry, fearful, and/or bored, and the parents are not willing to stand up and actively, gently, firmly steer their children in the right direction, reassure them, or just hold and cuddle them. Now, as a mom who has held onto a screaming 18 month old during an appointment, I am not judging these parents. But I do wish that they realized that their toolbox could exclude bribery and threats and punishments. Although my 18 month old screamed, I held him, cuddled him, endured embarrassment. I do not have any regrets about dealing with him harshly, trying to coerce him when he was just incredibly fearful.

I am happy that my heavenly Father does not deal with me using rewards and punishments either. It is His love that lead me to repentance, His always open arms that draw me to Him. He is not embarrassed by my childishness, and longs to meet all of my needs.

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