For years, I have been motivated by the desire to change the behavior of my children for the better. Unfortunately, my boys didn’t get that memo. They didn’t share my goal, at least not in my way, or on my timeline. Different factors seemed to drive their choices, attitudes and behaviors. Had I discovered this earlier in my parenting, perhaps I wouldn’t have worked so hard, at least not in the same way.
I believe parents and teachers put a great deal of emphasis on trying to change behaviors through external means of negative and positive reinforcement. [This is not about judgment; I have spent 22 years endeavoring in the same.] The problem with this line of strategies is that external reinforcement doesn’t directly translate to internal motivation, and some degree of internal motivation is needed for lasting behavioral change. Ultimately, the best lessons are learned through the natural and logical consequences life affords.
This week, three of my four children had a shift in their behavior without my interference or prompting – and I found the motivating factor for each: one by fear of failure, [I’m ahead of schedule on my credit recovery.] another by finances, [I got a job.] and yet another by a potential girlfriend [I signed up for drivers ed.] Amazing. As much as I spouted the importance of all three tasks, it wasn’t until they found an internal motivation did the items get any attention.
Behavior change is usually preceded by personal “ah-ha” moments. Sometimes we just have to wait and allow natural consequences to drive kiddos to action. Just as necessity is the mother of invention, so too, do I believe she is the parent who will ultimately motivate children and teens to make better choices.