QUESTION: I am uncomfortable using rewards to influence my kids. It seems too much like bribery to me. I'd like to hear your views on the subject.
JAMES DOBSON: Many parents feel as you do, and in response I say, don't use them if you are philosophically opposed to the concept.
It is unfortunate, however, that one of our most effective teaching tools is often rejected because of what I would consider to be a misunderstanding of terms. Our entire society is established on a system of rewards, yet we don't want to apply them where they are needed most: with young children.
As adults, we go to work each day and receive a paycheck every other Friday. Getting out of bed each morning and meeting the requirements of a job are thereby rewarded. Medals are given to brave soldiers, plaques are awarded to successful business people and watches are presented to retiring employees. Rewards make responsible efforts worthwhile.
The main reason for the overwhelming success of capitalism is that hard work and personal discipline are rewarded materially. The great weakness of socialism is the absence of reinforcement; why should a person struggle to achieve if there is nothing special to be gained?
This system is a destroyer of motivation, yet some parents seem to feel it is the only way to approach children. They expect little Marvin to carry responsibility simply because it is noble for him to do so. They want him to work and learn and sweat for the sheer joy of personal accomplishment. He isn't going to buy it!
Consider the alternative approach to the ''bribery'' I've recommended. How are you going to get your 5-year-old son to behave more responsibly? The most frequently used substitutes are nagging, complaining, begging, screaming, threatening and punishing. The mother who objects to the use of rewards may also go to bed each evening with a headache, vowing to have no more children. She doesn't like anything resembling a ''bribe,'' yet later she will give money to her child when some opportunity comes along.
Since her youngster never earns his own cash, he doesn't learn how to save it or spend it wisely or pay tithe on it. The toys she buys him are purchased with her money, and he values them less. But most important, he is not learning the self-discipline and personal responsibility that are possible through the careful reinforcement of that behavior.
Yes, I do believe the judicious use of rewards can be very helpful to parents. But they're not for everyone.
QUESTION: I have always been a good student, and I want to go to either law school or medical school. That means I could be in my mid or late 20s by the time I graduate and get on with my life. But I also want to be a wife and mother and stay home with my children. I can't figure out how to reach both these goals. How can I be a professional and a mother, too?
JAMES DOBSON: You've described a dilemma that millions of young women struggle with today. Three competing choices lie before them -- whether to have a career, be a wife and mother, or attempt to do both. It is a decision that will have implications for everything that is to follow.
Since you don't yet have plans to get married, I would recommend that you press ahead with your academic goals. Once your training is complete, you will still have all the options available to you. If by that time you are married and want to become a full-time mother, you can put your career on hold for a few years or leave it altogether. Remember, you can always return to it after the children are older.
Only you can decide what is best for yourself, of course. I would strongly suggest that you make it a matter of prayer as you seek the Lord's will for your life.
(James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from ''Solid Answers,'' published by Tyndale House.)
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