This weekend, my husband and I put our son (and ourselves) through potty training boot camp. In case you don't know what potty training boot camp is, it has nothing to do with yelling and screaming while wearing fatigues. Instead, you pump your kid full of water, and take them to bathroom every 10-15 minutes. When they succeed in going, you lavish them with praise and give them a Skittle.
It seems like a pretty good system (few accidents, a great deal of happiness regarding Spiderman underwear), until by the end of the third day, you realize that you've created a little sugar crack addict (who, in defense of the system, doesn't need diapers anymore).
The problem isn't so much the manipulative sugar addict, but the fact that I learned it is incredibly easy to modify my kid's behavior without having to use logic or emotion or an appeal to character. I merely had to give him Skittles. As a parent, I'm on a dangerously slippery slope.
What is your goal for teaching your kids?
Sometimes, when people ask me about my goals for raising my kids, I mention that I want them to be generous and productive members of society who love God and love people. It's a good mission statement, but it is definitely an external motivation. If my kids end up as screwed up psychopaths or if they die at an early age will all time spent parenting be wasted? If the entirety of my motivation is external then yes.
Which is why I need to flip my goal around. I want to raise my kids in a way that helps me to love God and people more, so that I grow in character and wisdom and become a more generous and productive member of society. Whoa, tall order for a Monday morning! Good thing its internal motivation.
Internal motivation, motivation that cuts to the core of who we are, and appeals directly to our long term happiness is the best type of motivation of all. Interestingly, it is also the type of motivation that is the most likely to be rewarded in our society.
Can you teach internal motivation?
Yesterday, after giving my son, his 30th Skittle of the day, I wondered if he would relapse when we stopped giving him Skittles (you know starting in about 5 minutes). I'm guessing he won't, but only because that's what all the parenting websites tell me. I also began to wonder if it is possible, as a parent, to teach your kids to have internal motivation.
I doubt its systematically possible to teach kids about internal motivation, especially if you screw them up with Skittles starting at age two, but I have to think that there must be a way that we can at least push our kids more towards internal motivation and less towards external. We can use words that describe our healthy eating and exercise patterns as providing primarily mental and emotional benefits. We can model strong internal motivation as we live differently than our neighbors and friends. We can give them some latitude in figuring out the structure of their daily routines.
I think as parents, we have a responsibility to help our kids probe their internal motivations, even if they are quite insistent that all that really want in this life is candy. (Or as Kenny told me yesterday, "Mommy, I only want cheese and spicy water and a giant robot please.") I'm not saying this is easy or even possible with a toddler, but I hope we can try.
Although, I doubt Rob and I will be able to forgo external motivation throughout all of childhood (after all, managing children's behavior is a monumentally difficult task), I hope that we can guide Kenny and the future kids to the understanding that internal motivation is far superior. Maybe we can help create an environment where internal motivation trumps the external.
Help a young parent out. How did you try to teach your kids about internal motivation? And what should we avoid?
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.