When my friend Jeff was toilet-training his daughter Alex, he offered her a small piece of chocolate each time she peed in the potty. Out of candy one day, Jeff told Alex he would have to use “pretend chocolate” for her reward. Alex hopped off the potty, smiling, but nothing was in it. “What’s the deal?” Jeff asked. Alex replied, “I made a pretend pee.”
“Sharp girl,” says psychologist and Parents advisor Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., coauthor of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. Clever kids can often work their way around any reward system, she says. What’s more, studies show that the positive effects of rewards are short-lived.
Have Meaningful Conversations
One-on-one talks with your kid are crucial for tapping into a child’s intrinsic motivation, says Dr. Deci. Children are naturally curious, and inviting them to understand why something makes sense may appeal to their intellect.
Jodi Golden, of Baton Rouge, says she often bribes her kids to behave while grocery shopping with the promise of a toy from the dollar section, “because it works.” But she confesses the kids are generally much better behaved for her husband, Brett, who doesn’t bribe but instead makes everything a life lesson. After the kids have cleaned their room, Brett always points out how nice it looks, Jodi says, and how important it will be for them as adults to know how to keep their things neat and organized.
Embrace Their Imperfections
Most young kids actually enjoy select chores if you can relax your standards about how well and how quickly they get done. “It’s sad to watch children between the ages of 3 and 5 losing their love of doing chores,” says Parents advisor and psychologist Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. “For example, some like sorting warm laundry and matching socks, but they stop because parents can be too rushed and too picky.” Focus on the fact that your child got his comforter off the floor – instead of that it’s hanging unevenly – and praise the effort. And if there are certain jobs your kids love, make sure that they get those jobs. Sandra Tyler, of Setauket, New York, has a son who likes to play at being a waiter, so it’s a win-win for her family that his chores include clearing the table and doing the dishes.