All we really want is for our children to cooperate with us. No, please, please, please – don’t melt into a puddle on the floor, don’t have a hissy fit, don’t sneak away while I get out the bandaids so the toddler can entertain himself so I can educate you. Don’t argue with me or shriek.
Just do the thing I’m asking you to do. Just cooperate, kid.
We are often looking for ways to make our kids do the stuff we want them to do, whether it’s pick up toys, speak with a little decency to their siblings or do some algebra.
I have some news, both sad and heartening at the same time. You can’t actually force a kid to do something. Or any other person to do something. That’s sad news, because, well – mostly because we want things to go the way we want them to go. But it’s heartening because it forces us to consider other ways to motivate people that don’t undermine the relationship.
Enter: a idea worth questioning. Carrot and stick.
Applying the carrot or the stick to make our kids do stuff we want them to do. Carrot and stick, rewards and consequences. External motivators to make our kids do stuff we want them to do. There are better ways, my friends.
For this post, I’m just going to explore how we can’t force someone to do something. You want your child to do something, even something mildly pleasant, or even innocuous. They are in a snit, and don’t want to do the thing. Let’s say something like buttering the toast. They refuse. You say, “do as I say.” They don’t. You say, “do as I say.” more loudly. This kind of social interaction goes on for a few minutes. A couple of things might happen. They might storm away. You might send them away. You might take their hand, get the butter, force their hand to butter the dang bread, all the while muttering things under your breath. In all of these cases, you end up buttering the toast. The child is not buttering the toast. You are buttering the toast.
Exploring other eventualities, the child might actually just butter the toast. But that’s not the kid we’re usually concerned about because their tendency is to be naturally cooperative. So we don’t even think about the lengths we are going to have to go to to get them to do what we want them to do. But if they were in a snit to begin with, or in the beginning of an emotional melt down, or the kind of kid who feels put upon by every small thing you ask them to do, or one of those kids who just simply doesn’t want to cooperate very much (ever). You probably wouldn’t have raised your voice, or made a threat in the first place.
You actually can’t force someone to do something. You can up the ante, for sure. You can move from 1) well, if you don’t butter the toast you won’t get lunch, 2) if you don’t butter the toast you have to go to your room, 3) if you don’t butter the toast you can’t play with your friends for a week, 4) two weeks, 5) a month, 6) I’m telling all your friends that you can’t play for the rest of your life because you won’t butter the toast and finally 7) you will simply have to take the child to an orphanage for bad children.
Over the next few days, I’ll explore these two things:
- Why carrot and stick isn’t worth it.
2. If not carrot and stick, then WHAT?