Yesterday I took my kids to the beach. (When the sun comes out we have to go to the beach. Sunny days are still so rare - even in August.) While I sat there reading and watching my kids, I overheard a group of moms complaining about how difficult it is to motivate their children to do anything them unless they have immediate rewards for their compliance.
I thought about all of the similar conversations I have had with friends about the exact same topic.
I think a lot of our daily actions are merely based on habit. There are few things that we do because we stop to think about the resulting immediate or long-term rewards. I don't think about why I should brush my teeth, I just do it. I used to solicit and end up arguing with my oldest son over unloading the dishwasher or folding a load of laundry as a daily chore. Now when I ask, he just does it.
When kids are young, how do we help them develop these types of habits? Habits that are healthy, lead to happiness, and are actually beneficial to themselves, like being nice to their siblings, working, serving, cleaning up after themselves. How do I teach my oldest to look for opportunities to do a chore, without being asked? Is rewarding children over and over again the best way to get them to accomplish something that maybe they have no interest in doing, or is difficult for them to do? Or can we just continue to encourage them continuously, of course teaching by example, and help them to see the benefits?
I think if we help our children do something over and over again, they will see how rewarding it is, and, as time goes by, it will hopefully become second nature for them. Is there an easier or better way?
I find that when we discuss values, repeatedly, it gives my children something to think about and something for me to remind them of when we are in the heat of the moment. This is one of my favorite parenting books: The Book of Mormon: A Pattern for Parenting, by Geri Brinley. The first time I read it, it took me a while to get into it, (I think my kids were still young so I thought I knew what I was doing and didn't need much help), but I read it often now - in large chunks as it has so many wonderful and applicable ideas that I have loved.