“I want it now”
“What will you give me if I do it?”
“I’m not doing it for nothing”
I hear these statements from my own kids and other people’s kids. It seems the American society has shifted to start “buying” positive behavior. For example, you take your kids grocery shopping and you tell them if they behave, you will buy them candy. Your kid gets all As and Bs and you give them money. They respectfully and appropriately interact with your elderly relative and you reward them with a new game.
I would love to say some of my examples are rare but they are not. Kids should behave at the grocery store and with relatives because it is appropriate and consequences given if not. Students should work to the best of their ability at school and the expectations should be clear what that means. For example, a middle school student who has missing assignments is not working to the best of his ability. Set up consequences for missing assignments. Set up consequences for goofing off in class. Set up consequences for not engaging in studying. A fun reward can be given for excellent grades but strive toward an activity done as a family (maybe dinner at a favorite restaurant or the family goes bowling).
I believe kids can earn an allowance (commission in my house) for chores but they need some chores that are mandatory. So maybe sweeping and mopping earns money but cleaning your room is done just because it is your space. Or cleaning up after a pet is done because you enjoy the pet as part of the family and washing dad’s car earns some money.
This change can’t happen without a conversation as a family. It will be hard for the kids to shift their thinking. This means some of the behavior will be inappropriate and unpleasant (think tantrum at the grocery store). Consequences should be set and clear. They need to be enforced CONSISTENTLY! This is very hard but crucial. Don’t worry about being embarrassed (easier said than done I know). Anyone with a child should understand.
I want to add this doesn’t just happen in the home or just by parents. I recently had an incident with my son where he became violent with his sister at karate and then started yelling and screaming when I took him out of the class for the day. The staff there tried to give candy to get him to calm down. He declined, stating, “my mom’s not going to let me have that.” I replied, “he’s right.” He knew I wasn’t going to pay him with candy to be quiet. I was embarrassed and would have loved for him to stop making a scene but I had to think long term and want to teach him to appropriately cope instead. We have to start with changes in the home as parents, and then work to teach others to learn other ways too.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.