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Motivate your child
A Christian Parent's Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told
By SCOTT TURANSKY, JOANNE MILLER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 National Center for Biblical Parenting, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Internal Versus External Motivation
External motivation has this way of squelching initiative, decreasing creativity, and robbing one of the satisfaction of accomplishment.
Anna and Dave Correra were frustrated every morning trying to get their three kids out the door. It was as if each one of the children needed a personal assistant to keep moving. These parents often joked that their kids needed assisted living as much as Grandma did in the rest home.
Dad and Mom wished their children would be internally motivated to do what's right instead of relying on parental prompters to get things done. Instead, their kids waited for instructions for each task. "Are you dressed?" "Did you eat breakfast?" "Brush your hair." "Get your backpack by the door." "Where are your shoes?" And on and on it went. Dad and Mom realized that they were functioning as the conscience for each of their kids, prompting them forward each step of the way. It was time for a change.
Dave and Anna didn't like the nagging and were frustrated by the patterns that had developed. Their kids needed to learn a better way. In a moment we'll tell you what they did, but first some background to understand their new methodology.
Developing the Conscience
The study of moral development in children doesn't come from a psychology textbook. It comes from the Bible. In order to maximize parenting, it's important to view children from a biblical perspective and understand how they're designed. The purpose of the conscience is to reveal to every person that God exists and that there is a right and a wrong.
In subsequent chapters we'll share with you practical ways to use the conscience in your parent training to build internal motivation. In chapter 4, we'll show you how you can use conscience training to increase responsibility in a child of any age. In chapter 5, you'll learn how to help kids take responsibility for offenses instead of blaming them on others. In chapter 7, you'll learn how to use the conscience to help kids overcome selfish tendencies and consider others. A study of the conscience arms parents with a whole new toolbox for parent training. But before we get to some of the tools, let's continue with some more theology so you can embed your parental activity into your faith.
It's fair to say that God placed the conscience inside a person to provide an internal motivation to find God and give one's heart to him. The conscience is on a mission, and only when it finds salvation through Jesus Christ is it satisfied. After salvation, though, what use is the conscience? Is that the end of its purpose? Not according to the Bible. Paul had been a believer for many years before he made this statement in Acts 24:16: "I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." Paul knew the value of a clear conscience and understood that work was required to keep it that way.
Parenting in a way that develops the conscience does several things. First, it helps kids know there's a right and a wrong. Not only that, it teaches them how to choose and take a stand for what's right and to wisely deal with wrongs. The conscience values integrity, so it helps children when they're tempted to be dishonest. And the conscience motivates children to think of others, and not just themselves.
The development of the conscience helps children live on two levels of thinking at the same time. Life isn't only about playing with a toy, eating food, or taking care of oneself. When teaching responsibility, every activity has a second dimension. Children learn to watch the clock, monitor their own fairness, and think about how their current action affects others. Unfortunately, some children just live on level one, thinking about the task at hand, and then rely too heavily on their parents to manage level two. Parents are continually living with level two thinking and actually become the conscience for their kids. They tell them what time it is, make sure they have their homework in their backpacks, and are quick to point out when meanness is present.
Children need to develop level two thinking in their own lives, and that can happen when parents train their children to think about more than the task at hand. Level two thinking is enhanced by the work of the conscience. Kids need to always be asking questions such as, "Am I doing the right thing? Should I be helping others? Am I staying on schedule?" Even young children can begin to learn level two thinking as they consider the needs of others, clean up one activity before starting another, and learn to be grateful instead of making others miserable with their whining or complaining.
A strong conscience gives children an internal motivation to be responsible and to do the right thing even when they don't feel like it. Almost any area of parenting would benefit from a conscience approach. Parents can work with their children in a way that fosters this internal compass to help them for the rest of their lives.
God designed the conscience to keep the heart going in the right direction. The heart provides internal motivation; the conscience prompts the heart so the internal motivation stays on the right path. However, the conscience itself is only a tool. It's not the ultimate standard for right and wrong. Paul made that clear in 1 Corinthians 4:4, which says, "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me." A child who just got revenge might feel a temporary sense of satisfaction and an appeased conscience. That doesn't justify the actions. A person may say he feels at peace about disobedience to God. That doesn't make it right.
The conscience needs training. For that reason, God leaves another space in the human heart to complete the internal guidance system. The conscience is maximized by the presence of God himself living and residing inside us. First Corinthians 3:16 asks the rhetorical question, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" When a person accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside the heart.
Some people mistakenly believe that the Holy Spirit and the conscience are the same thing. They aren't, and many of the verses in this chapter alone indicate the unique identity of each. The conscience is a human element inside every person. It's standard operating equipment for everyone, young and old. The Holy Spirit is a person who comes to live in the heart at the second birth, which the Bible calls salvation. The Holy Spirit doesn't take the place of the conscience but rather further equips it to do the work it needs to do.
The conscience and the Holy Spirit continually send messages to the heart about what's right and wrong. The conscience is a governor for the heart to keep it on track. It's only a human entity and, as a result, is imperfect. Sometimes its messages are misunderstood, misinterpreted, or simply rejected. As parents train their children, much of their work is clarifying the role and function of the conscience so their children, over time, rely less and less on Mom and Dad, and more and more on the Lord in their lives. The spiritual training described in the second section of this book is essential for healthy conscience formation and contributes greatly to level three thinking.
The third level of thinking asks the questions about God, his work in our world, and the ramifications of current actions from a spiritual perspective. Not many people get to level three thinking, but with training even young children can develop healthy patterns. Level three thinking hears about a tragedy in another country and asks questions about the Christians in that area and how the event might affect them. It's following a prompting to pray for someone when you hear about a difficult experience. As kids learn to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they often develop more spiritual sensitivity than many adults. Level three thinking takes advantage of both the conscience and the Holy Spirit to build significant maturity regarding events in life.
The challenge of conscience development is to help children become more sensitive to the inner promptings they experience, and then to have the character to evaluate those promptings and respond appropriately. If you ask a child, "Why do you do what's right?" what is the typical response? Most children will say, "So I don't get in trouble." It's then that you can take that child to Romans 13:5, which says, "It is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment [external motivation] but also because of conscience [internal motivation]." Children can learn to be internally motivated, but it often takes a change in parents for that to happen.
Notice we're back to that same word again: conscience. The Greek word used thirty times in the New Testament for conscience is syneidesis and literally means the "self that knows." Interestingly, there is no Hebrew word for conscience, but the idea is certainly taught in the Old Testament, and we'll explore some of the relevant teaching as it applies to parenting.
Many children rely more on externals than they do on internals. To make the change, they need training. Sometimes kids have learned to rely on externals because of the way they're parented. A biblical study of the conscience opens the door for new, practical ways to train children.
A Common Parenting Mistake That Hinders Conscience Development
Most parents were raised on what's called "behavior modification." Ivan Pavlov discovered this system in the early 1900s as he worked with dogs. He learned that he could change the dogs' behavior and make them salivate by giving them food while ringing a bell. After several days of doing this, he would ring the bell without the food and the dogs would still salivate. Thus he trained the dogs to salivate at the sound of the bell. That may not sound too important in the broad scheme of things, but it had significant ramifications for the training of animals. Trainers have since used rewards to get animals to do all kinds of things.
In the 1920s, a man named John B. Watson started using behavior modification on people. It worked. People changed when given a reward. So it wasn't long before many new behavior modification programs became the norm. Smoking cessation systems, weight loss plans, and all kinds of learning programs used behavior modification to help people change. Soon the techniques were the model for working with children in the classroom, and then eventually in the home. Here's what it looks like in a typical home today.
Sandra is four years old. You can often hear her mom make statements like this: "Sandra, clean up your toys so you can have a snack." "Finish getting dressed so you can go out and play." Mom has learned that if she tells Sandra that she'll get a reward, Sandra is more likely to do the task. The problem is that Mom is appealing to Sandra's selfishness to get things done.
It may be easy to get a preschooler to do what you want by giving some kind of reward, but as she gets older, you have to increase the value of the reward to get the same response. You can motivate a preschooler with a quarter, but you'll need a dollar by the time she's seven, and five dollars by the time she's ten, and you'll be paying her twenty dollars at thirteen. If you continue to use the same system, by the time she's in high school, you'll have to promise her a car to get her to graduate.
The reason is clear. Behavior modification requires that you give a reward that's greater than the desire to do something different. You're simply compensating a child for doing something she'd rather not do using something she wants.
Behavior modification works because it appeals to the selfishness in a child's heart. Unfortunately, kids grow up asking the wrong questions: "What's in it for me?" and "Are you going to pay me for this?"
Some parents label their children as strong-willed because of the battle they often experience when they try to get their children to do even the smallest of things. Parents lament, "Nothing works." They say, "He doesn't care if I take everything away; he won't change." "She doesn't care about the star chart, the trip this weekend, or dessert."
Strong-willed children know what they want and are not easily deterred. Why? Because children who are characterized as "strong-willed" already have high levels of internal motivation and are less affected by external motivations. These kids challenge the typical behavior modification system of rewards and punishment. The suggestions in this book are just the tools necessary to guide these kids in the right direction, opening up new parenting strategies for weary parents.
It's amazing how many of us have been greatly influenced by secular humanism. Parents want their children to be internally motivated, but sometimes their strategies do just the opposite. Some parents go so far as to train their children as if they're animals by inadvertently overemphasizing rewards and punishment. When that happens, parents miss the tremendous opportunities that a heart-based approach to parenting offers. In reality, parents who understand their faith realize that there's another large bucket of parenting tools that is heart-related. They help their children make progress more quickly and see them making lasting changes as well.
Children who are internally motivated tend to do things for different reasons. Instead of getting something out of their actions, they ask the question, "What's the right thing to do?" That kind of motivation comes through a different parenting approach. We call it a heart-based approach to parenting. It teaches internal motivation to children and takes advantage of the work of the conscience and the Holy Spirit.
Working It Out in the Correra Family
Let's go back to the morning routine in the Correra family. Dave and Anna's children are five, seven, and ten. Dave leaves for work at 7:05 a.m., and the older two kids need to be out the door by 7:45. The kids are all awake by 6:30, so they have plenty of time to get everything done, but all three of them either dawdle or get sidetracked. If Mom doesn't stay on top of them, the tension increases during the last half hour, and the morning ends unpleasantly for all.
Responsibility is always about level two thinking. The four-year-old who goes over to help a crying baby, the nine-year-old who empties the dishwasher without being asked, and the fifteen-year-old who offers to help cook dinner are all practicing responsibility by thinking about others, not just themselves. Remembering to put away toys, take out the trash, or keep the bathroom neat all require level two thinking. Children learn how to think on a second dimension when parents teach it.
For example, teaching a child to watch a clock in the morning is a lesson in responsibility. Some initial explanation and training are in order so instead of always giving the next instruction, parents are simply saying, "Watch the clock." This approach teaches children to think about level two instead of waiting for parents to instruct them. The same approach happens by pointing to the calendar or the to-do list instead of saying, "Today's the day to take the trash to the street" or micromanaging all the tasks necessary to get things ready for school the next day.
Anna and Dave called a family meeting. Together with the kids, they created a to-do list for each child of all the things that had to get done in the morning. The first one was "feet on the ground," and others included getting dressed, making the bed, eating breakfast, preparing backpacks, brushing teeth and hair, and so forth. In all, they identified nine things that each of the children needed to do.
Dad then shared a verse from the Bible to help the kids understand internal motivation. Colossians 3:23 contrasts external motivation with internal motivation: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." Mom talked about what that meant for their family. She said, "When you do something with all your heart, it means that your motivation to get things done comes from inside you, not from Mom or Dad telling you what to do."
Excerpted from Motivate your child by SCOTT TURANSKY, JOANNE MILLER. Copyright © 2015 National Center for Biblical Parenting, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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