But as a parent, I find myself making these declarations fairly regularly. "I need to get my son eating more vegetables." "I need to get my daughter to stop waking me up at 3am every night to help her pee when she can obviously do it by herself." It is quite natural with problem solving, 1) state problem, 2) state goals for problem, 3) find the method to resolve, 4) test, 5) study results, 6) repeat making adjustments as necessary.
7 days ago, I made a declaration of epic proportions, "I will no longer use threat of punishment or promise of reward to the modify behavior of my kids." This isn't all that dissimilar to some of my past declarations. "I will be nicer to my kids." "I will not put either kid in timeout today." "Today is going to an Only Fun Day." Much like New Years Resolutions, they were broken before they were even started.
Now toddlers are tough. They are active, noisy, smart enough to know right and wrong and the rules but not smart enough to control their emotional responses every time. This makes all day every day very testing for the patience and positivity of us parents. I've said to my wife numerous times "How can they not give themselves headaches? They literally never stop making noise or just sit quietly. Maybe they're deaf and we should get their ears checked." Not deaf. They just don't stop until they fall asleep.
And with this constant barrage of toddler energy and chaos, I found myself all day long, day after day, dangling the carrot of punishments and rewards to get my kids to act appropriately. And it works. But what I am teaching them? Good moral character is doing right because it is right, the age old Kantian view. I believe as parents, that's the ultimate goal for our kids, to know right and WANT to do right. But I had the sneaking suspicion that I have been teaching my kids that doing right comes with rewards and wrong with punishments, so as they are getting older, if there is no reward or an adequate reward or no punishment or a marginal punishment, then they can cost benefit whether to do right in that situation. That is no bueno! I just felt I couldn't wait til the moment my son looked at me after I ask him to put his shoes in his room and he says "what's in it for me?" If he says that, I just may hang him upside down from the dining room chandelier and make a pinata out of him. Even now, I often get the "I just poohed, can I get a jelly bean?" to which I must reply, "No. That was 2 years ago when you were learning how to pooh on the potty. Now you are a big kid and know how to pooh on the potty every time." to which he replies, "aw." See, these types of interactions were happening way too often so I knew I needed to modify my behavior in order to modify theirs, thus the declaration.
So first, I had to stop myself saying the "If or when and then". "If you're nice, then...." "When you're not listening, then..." "If you want, then...." It was hard but doable. I did much better the first 3 days and then started slipping a little over the weekend. I had to catch myself mid-sentence a bunch and just start over with it reworded. What I found was that in instead making offers and ultimatums at nauseam, I was making statements and then either answering questions like the target of a FBI Probe or asking questions constantly like a Mafia Don, and these conversations were long and exhausting.
1) Old converstation: "If you want to watch a movie before bed, then you need to eat all your dinner."
2) New conversation: Me: "I need you guys eating all your dinner." G: " Then can we watch a movie?" Me: "We can talk about the movie later. For now, let's eat." G: "But I don't want to eat chicken nuggets." Me: "I made them because you asked for them. How many can we eat?" G: "None." Me: "So you don't want anything for dinner? Sounds like you'll be hungry later." G: "Maybe I can get a snack later." Me: "Or maybe we can just eat dinner now." G: "Then can we watch a movie?" Son of a!
1) Old conversation: "Gray, if you snatch another toy from G, you'll need to go take a timeout. That is not playing nice."
2) New conversation: Me: "Gray, did you just snatch a toy from G?" Gray: "Yes." Me: "Was that nice?" Gray: "No." Me: "Do you like it when other kids snatch toys from you?" Gray: "No." Me: "What can we do differently next time?" Gray: "Not snatch the toy." Me: "That's right. Now go play but make sure you're playing nice." 5 seconds later, she snatches a toy again. Son of a!
Like I said, very testing of our patience and positivity. But kids need to learn and grow up in a positive environment. Right now, I am far from a perfect dad and remind myself many times every day about the importance of that positive environment. My wife likes to remind me to let them be kids sometimes. I admit that is harder than it sounds. We all want well-behaved kids, especially out in public. But I guess it's better to have little a-holes now than have them being big a-holes when they are grown.
Our little boy turned 4....
Comfy beach living....
Obviously she had fun in Mexico....
Delta flew us first class there and back without us asking or them even telling us! They are the best!