Instead of Gold Stars

I can relate to Patrick Farenga’s challenges in moving away from a punishment/reward model of parenting—not just for “school” but for basic daily activities, like getting the kids ready for bed.

As a parent I do find some of John[ Holt]’s ideas hard to implement—the temptation to externally motivate our girls, using praise and criticism as my primary motivational techniques, is one I constantly find myself fighting against. It is the teaching/learning relationship I’m most familiar with, just as my diet is more familiar with fat and meat than with vegetables and fruit. In both cases, I need to get more comfortable and consistent with new ideas, and in both cases it is difficult to do so.

[Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, p. 99]

Several months ago, we instituted a “bedtime routine” in which both of the older kids (6 and 3) go through a sequence of steps (pajamas, brush teeth, clean room, etc.) in order to ascend one more notch on the path to winning a prize (granted every two weeks or so, if they’re “good”). We’ve had limited success, but lately it requires a lot of nagging.

The more I read from John Holt, the more I think we should move away from this approach. After all, bedtime routine still isn’t that much more fun or easy for us than it was before. Their room is consistently more clean, but at what cost? Maybe we need to let go of short-term results in order to find ways to make getting ready for bed more intrinsically motivating.

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