As we were walking up the stairs to the the viewing area at the gym, Sojo started crying because I would not place him on my shoulders and take him up the stairs (because I was carrying Kanoa and a diaper bag). A friend and mother of another child in gymnastics let me know she thought he needed help up the stairs, but I explained that he was throwing a fit because I would not put him on my shoulders. I could tell she was a bit concerned for him but I continued the conversation in asking how her week was going. After a couple minutes of conversation Sojo slings his arms around exclaiming "daddy!" It was the kind of cute and loving hug I mom's and dad's receive from young children when they return home from work. My friend was completely amazed. "Oh my goodness, I can't believe that worked!" She exclaimed. "I think I just witnessed good parenting." She went on. "I felt so bad for him. I would have given in. Oh no, that's what I always do. Wow. I have been doing it wrong for 16 years! I always give him." She continued. "Do you think I have messed up?"
At this point I interjected and assured her there were many great things she is doing as a mom and parent. She has a HUGE heart for children and kids. But it was as though she had the biggest epiphany of her life. I'm sure it was not but it was fun and a bit funny to experience with her.
If I would have given in to Sojo's cries to be carried, I would have told him that I will give in whenever he cries or throws a fit. I went on to explain that Robin and I choose not to reward bad behavior, and that it is never too late to start. The difficulty in starting later though is that you have to break the habit of giving into your child AND break their conditioning of receiving whatever they want. Often times when a parent tries to turn the tide at a later point in parenting (especially in adolescence), the child will throw bigger fits and start more severe fights in the home in an attempt to restore their pre-conditioned order of things. You MUST stand your ground though. The longer you wait the worse it will get.
It is not always easy to do this, especially if your child's friends are use to getting what they want (this happens a lot) or if your friends or family members give your child whatever they want.
Last spring my mom while my mom was visiting we went out on a day trip. On the way to the Shennandoah Valley Safari and Sojo were arguing and fighting, so on the way home we told them that if they were good they could get a cookie (yes, we do bribe). Sojo did a great job but Safari did not. When we brought out the cookies after the meal, we gave one to Sojo and I ate the one designated for Safari. My sweet mother was furious. She explained that we need to give her a cookie and as I stood my ground she decided to leave the restaurant and get some fresh air. Mom and I made up later, but Safari did not receive her cookie. The reward was for good behavior, not bad.
It is not fun making my mom mad and it's not fun watching my kids throw fits or yell at us; but we have a job of teaching our kids how to behave. And rewarding bad behavior is a big road block to this task. Ask parents of teenagers who made the mistake earlier in parenting. Parenting kids who are use to getting everything they want or being rewarded for their bad behavior are tremendously difficult to parent during the adolescent years.
Robin and I have started reward systems for good behaviors. If Sojo is good during gymnastics, he gets fruit snacks. If they behave throughout the day, they get a desert/snack in the evening. As they continue to grow we will come up with new and different reward systems to reward the behavior we would like to see in them. My favorite time to reward them is when they have know idea it is coming. From time to time I will take them to Target and let them pick out a toy or something they would like. They typically ask me if it is for someone else. "Is it someone's birthday?" they ask. Other times I will take them out for one on one dad time to a playground or somewhere they find to be fun. My favorite part is when I get to explain how proud I have been of their actions or behavior. I then thank them for who they are becoming and how these actions promote Jesus and His Way of life.
In leadership, we celebrate the things we want to see in our organizations. The same should be in our families. Celebrate the right things. Reward right behavior. And ignore or discipline wrong behavior.