First you must instill in your child that performance matters.
When the quality of performance increases, so does self-esteem.
This is key.
Encouraging achievement is the only way to "give" a child self-esteem. They have to get it themselves. You can not give them self-esteem with gifts, video games, or the newest greatest outfit.
So, in order for the brain chemistry of your child to be optimal, he or she must have this feeling of achievement.
If we do everything for our child because it is easier and quicker, and we want to avoid the whining and complaining, we are taking away achievement opportunities. Essentially, we are taking away their self-esteem!
I call this well meaning method of parenting the lazy parenting technique, which is kind of a play on words in that they really are not lazy at all. A lazy parent runs around picking up after their child, making them all meals, cleaning all dishes, packing their school bags and lunch pails, driving them everywhere, even if it is a block away.
This running around sounds exhausting....... but it is mentally easier than parenting the children to do these things for themselves, or to parent them to help out.
It is certainly easier to just give in and let them wear the dress you just told them to change and they refused.
It is easier to pick up the clothes left on the floor than to argue with them to pick it up.
It is easier to make their beds for them than to parent them do it themselves.
I get it.
I have five children, and two step children. I worked full time at a busy dental office for 17 years. It is much easier to run around doing these things for them than to constantly parent them into pitching in.
Over the years, however, I have had to consciously decide what tasks I must get the kids to do to help them create their own optimal brain chemistry. We have a family meeting weekly, and decide, with their input, what their responsibilities should be. Young children are always included. It amazes me what kids at two years old can do! They can clean up toys, put laundry in the laundry basket, help feed the cat, help pull weeds in the driveway and the garden.
They always feel good about their achievement.
Would they prefer to play video games? Definitely. Would their brain chemistry be better doing chores and helping out? Definitely. It's a no brainer, so to speak. There is a place and time for video games. But, there is a place and time for responsibilities, which should precede the video games.
Each day I take time to visualize the end result of my parenting efforts, and it makes me happy to see them in my mind's eye as successful adults. I can feel, smell, hear and see their happiness. With that vision in my mind, I can easily strive to make it happen. Visualizing their future motivates me to plan ahead, motivates me to make the right choices, and motivates me to not give in to the push back.
Over the years of parenting (27 years and counting) I have come up with a few things that have worked well (and many that did not) to encourage the children to accept tasks happily and to reward achievement.
I now have the kids help me make a Responsibility Chart for the fridge so that the kids know exactly what is expected of them. There are no surprises. There are no misunderstandings.
The kids and I put many things on the list such as "brush teeth", "get dressed without argument", "pack lunch into backpack"...etc. The list of responsibilities is typically in order of what happens during a typical day. Added in on the chart are behavioural items such as kindness, sharing, manners, listening, and attitude. When the kids were too young to read, the older kids added pictures so that the younger kids could use the pictures as a reminder of expectations. The younger kids now draw in the pictures themselves simply because they enjoy making the weekly chart and having fun with different pictures.
Daily, beside each responsibility, the kids get a line if they needed reminding of the chore, a checkmark if the chore was done satisfactorily, and a brightly coloured star if done very well. If they neglect to do the chore, even after reminding, they get an X. They are now very good at not getting any Xs as it is a direct reflection on them and they feel sad or disappointed in themselves. This is a good thing because in the real world, it is much worse than an X on a chart.
We can not sugar coat the real world.
Kids need to learn that they have to earn praise, accept the need to do better, and even accept criticism if something is done poorly.
I saw so many well meaning loving and caring parents at the dental office say "great job", or "you were so brave" to the worst behaved kids after their dental appointment. Kicking and screaming does not warrant praise. This well intended loving is not doing any favours for their brain or their future, and certainly disrupted the brain chemistry of my team and myself!
The Responsibility Chart system works extremely well in our home and in the homes of others that have given feedback. I encourage the kids to come up with the chart responsibilities, and the rules, with some guidance of course. They often think of things I would not have thought of. They are much more detailed than I imagined they would be. Sometimes I hear them talk about what to add to the chart the following week. It's good stuff.
With every achievement, it is human nature to want a reward. Rewards increase dopamine production which helps activate the motivational centres of the brain. Rewards after achievement give pleasure and help reinforce behaviours.
Be aware though. This reinforcement can be a bad thing when you are rewarding bad behaviour such as giving in to whining or a temper tantrum, or even acknowledging it. That bad behaviour is inadvertently reinforced!
Never ever give in to the demands of bad behaviour.
Try not to acknowledge the bad behaviour. Kids see it as a reward that you are paying attention even if it is negative attention. Negative attention is better that no attention to a child.
Your kids are depending on you to stand strong, so that you may make them strong, even if they don't yet know it.
The checkmarks on the responsibility chart are certainly a reward in and of itself, but I reward my children monetarily as well. I want them to learn that in the real world, performance matters and is rewarded monetarily, through gratitude and acknowledgement, and through the feeling of accomplishment. This gives me an excellent opportunity to teach them important lessons about money.
Through the evolution of the chart, it is almost as though the chart has taken over a good portion of my parenting responsibility. The kids all know what is expected of them, which is a big portion of combating bad behaviour. They all know and accept when they get less than a star. It is almost as though I am no longer the bad guy with the help of the responsibility chart. It works like a charm. The kids love it, I love it, the teachers love the great behaviour exhibited at school, and their friends love it because there is certainly an awareness towards kindness and sharing that may not have been mindful prior to the chart.
Does the chart take time? Yes. Does having the kids help with cooking, dishes, cleaning, lawn care, gardening, and laundry take more time than if you were doing it yourself? Yep.
Is it worth it?
A resounding YES.
The optimized brain chemistry and neuroplasticity created by giving responsibility and allowing achievement will all help your brainiac become........