Molding our children’s character requires continual development of new parenting techniques. But one technique stands out: we need to praise our children’s good behavior and character regularly.
We all want to belong, to be affirmed, and to be recognized for contributing. This is true for babies as well as my employees who are in their 50’s. Praise and recognition are great motivators for all, and they will help shape our children’s character.
After almost 5 years as a parent, I believe that the carrot and stick both play an important role in molding character, but I try to always start first with the carrot. The carrot is a symbol of a reward for positive behavior, i.e. praise or a sweet treat, while the stick is punishment for negative behavior.
Here is an example of how the stick technique did not work, but the carrot technique did. It occurred at dinner time with our oldest son. About the time he turned four, he started a combination of bad behavior. He started to routinely say potty words at the dinner table, get out of his chair without permission, and just refused to eat anything on his plate unless he successfully negotiated a cookie or ice cream first.
When it’s the end of the day, and you’re tired from work, it can be a challenging time to have the patience required to coach your children. When you’re hungry and your warm dinner is under your nose, it becomes doubly challenging for me to retain a calm demeanor.
We at first tried the punishment, such as time-outs and taking his buddies away, but this was not working. The bad behavior was becoming routine. We did not want to create a continual habit of taking away his favorite buddy either.
Now we try to reserve the stick for when my oldest son hurts his younger brother or other kids, is repeatedly disrespectful, or makes dangerous choices. To use the stick technique effectively we realized quickly that we had to find his currency, or in other words, what would potentially make him upset enough to modify his behavior. While repeated instructions and yelling were not always effective, we found that time-outs and taking away his favorite stuffed animals or toys caught his attention most of the time.
So, in lieu of the stick technique, we got creative and tried a “good choices” chart. This is where we draw a star whenever he makes a good choice on a piece of paper we kept on the refrigerator. Then, after so many stars on the chart he got different rewards such as a Hershey Kiss or a cookie. A lot of stars grants him prized iPad time. We celebrate it, and make a big deal of this.
Examples of what good choices that earn a star are:
- doing something nice for someone else
- doing your chores the first time you’re asked
- eating your fruits and vegetables the first time you’re asked
- regularly using your manners without being reminded.
This works. Not all the time, but some of the time, and to us that was a success. In general, our 4-year-old got better at dinner time, and since then, we keep trying to find new ways to keep encouraging that good behavior.
The praise we’ve been giving him aloud allows his worthiness and positive contribution to get recognized within our house. This will have a lasting impact on his self-esteem, as well as his behavior.
The chart and this regular praise also did something that I wasn’t expecting quite yet at his age. After months and months of using the chart, I now see him light up when he makes a good choice. He holds his head high, his shoulders back and has a genuine proud smile. Even if he thinks no one is looking. This routine praise is now shaping how he makes decisions.
Just recently both boys and I were in the backyard. They were playing nearby while I was doing yardwork. Our 2-year-old was pushing a toy wheel barrow full of dirt, and he kept getting it stuck when he tried to push it up onto the sidewalk. Our 4-year-old saw this and quickly ran over and joyfully said, “I will help you, brother!” He then easily picked up the wheel barrow, set it up on the sidewalk and went back to playing with his toys.
I pretended not to see it but watched out of the corner of my eye. He wasn’t doing it for a star on the chart or to get noticed. Afterwards, you could sense his pride and happiness after helping his brother, and it didn’t even cross him mind to look for recognition.
This is the character we all hope to find in our children, and we can encourage and support it by regularly and sincerely praising our children.