Sometimes when a child acts in a non-pleasant way, we, as parents, use control to get them to comply or as we like to call it, to be disciplined. This is the kind of parenting style where we use punishment like time out or canning to have the child to behave right or reinforcement like gifts when a child behaves well to encourage him or her to keep doing good.
Now, is gifting a child wrong? No what about having the child face the consequences of his actions? Also no.
What’s wrong is that, the way in which we at times use punishment and reinforcement may have the child feel manipulated or like he is loosing control.
As a result of the punishment, cheeky habits start being witnessed because the child will start trying to regain control of his life which he feels like he doesn’t have. Additionally, when a child is complemented or gifted when they do something right and rarely the other times, they start feeling like love from you only comes when they do good so they start seeking your validation
This means they start doing things just so that they can get a “good job!” or a promised gift from you. Not that promising kids things is wrong the problem comes in because they no longer focus on doing the right thing because it’s right but because there is a gift in store.
So if you tell the child “when we are in the vehicle you make a lot of noise and it makes me angry…………. It would be good if we try and talk but not shout all the time.. if you keep quiet today I will buy you cake when we get to the supermarket”
That statement is well put because you have talked about how it makes you feel. However, since a gift was promised, the child is going to interpret it differently. He is going to interpret that the when he does what you want you show him love. He will not keep in mind the lesson and value taught as much as he will the implication behind the gift. This is because you haven’t asked him what he thinks about the behaviour and how he would feel if someone did the same to him.
To help a child understand how the behaviour affects others, it is wise to let him or her interpret how the behaviour would affect him or her. This teaches the child how to empathize and the value of consideration of others’emotions. So if he ate all the cake and left none for his sister, I would say this to my son
“I noted that you ate all the cake yesterday and left none for your sister, did you see how your sister felt? How would you feel if I bought cake for all of us but then you find that she has finished all the cake?” (Give him time to respond and then teach him about the value of kindness and consideration)
This way, we are doing it with the intention of helping the child to:
1. Feel in control of the disciplining process
2. Be able to put himself in the shoes of the other person and imagine how they felt
The other thing we need to do after the above has been accomplished is to give the child a chance to suggest solutions of what the right thing to do is. So here goes an example “you have told me that if it were you who found all the cake gone you would feel bad, to avoid your sister from feeling the same, what do you think would be best to do next time?”
Your child will start giving solutions that are based on his understanding and reasoning.. he might say something that doesn’t seem right to you but you need to give him time to list other solutions.
For example he says” I will leave for her some” I would ask, “what if you leave for her an amount that isn’t fair or equal?”
This example is based on a five year olds understanding, I encourage us to dialogue with the our children based on their age and level of maturity.
The reason why promising a gift in return for good behaviour can be problematic is, it doesn’t teach the child empathy, or values. It actually has the child do the right things with selfish interest.. “I will keep quiet in the car so that mum buys me a toy” or I will work hard to get a reward. Research has shown that when there is a gift involved, rarely do they keep in mind how their actions made the other person feel.
The same goes for punishment. “I will do this and that so that I don’t get punished”. Punishing also makes the child to start being cheeky. He or she finds other ways to avoid the punishment like lying that it wasn’t him or doing it when sure he or she won’t get caught. It also makes the child to loose confidence as he grows up thinking that he is as good as his behaviour.
Gifting on the other hand when done without attachment to a behaviour is more encouraged as it helps the child feel unconditionally loved. As a result he will be a confident person who values himself even when things are not going well or when he makes a mistake.