Parenting children and getting them to comply with your requests is playing a long game. It can be thought of as running a marathon, not a sprint. If you could imagine a friend daring you to “Do/say the same thing over and over, sometimes 10 times a day (or more) for months on end, while keeping an even tone” -That’s parenting! When you play a long game, the result you desire is a long way off, but is very much there.

 Be patient, be consistent and one day, much to your surprise, they are doing as you hope…..seemlessly! Reflect with your partner or friend about what your child used not to do but now does, or something they didn’t do and now they do it. Give yourself a clap on the back, that was because of your endless repetition of the same message.

 Wouldn’t it be lovely if humans were intrinsically motivated to do the things we want them to do? I hear lots of frustrations from parents such as “He should just clean his room because it’s good to have a clean room” or “She should eat her dinner because it’s healthy and she should not need a treat to get her to eat it”. So why are they not just motivated to do as we ask. There are a couple of reasons

We raise our children in a continuously evolving reward based system that we create and then get annoyed with

We know that the way to help children learn what we value and what we want them to repeat is by showing them which behaviours we value it and then they repeat the behaviour so they will get the reward again. This starts with verbally praising their regular achievements when they are teeny tiny babies.We have to praise them because they need feedback to know what they are doing right. Without feedback (in the form of praise or object) they can feel lost about what is the right thing to do and this can lead to self esteem* issues. As they continue to grow, a mix of verbal praise and objects are used to motivate and complete tasks.

However as they grow and their brain evolves and becomes more sophisticated (which we want)-they see all the cool stuff around them (sweets, treats, TV, screens and simultaneously there are more reasons to get distracted from the task at hand. We then begin to give them something other than verbal praise(see the table below for some of them) to get them to do the thing we want them to do.

In our children’s world as they grow and develop Evolving type of reward
Task Reward
Roll over                                          Clap and cheer
Finish their bottle Say “well done”
Wave goodbye Say “well done”
Wait for parent to finish household task Do a jigsaw together
Getting dressed in the morning Watch youtube before school
Eat you dinner Get a treat
Learn to share Say “well done
Learn to share (for kids who find it really tough to do) Use a reward chart for each time they complete the behaviour leading up to an ultimate reward of choice of a move, trip to Smyth** etc.
Do the chores Get €5
Do  well in tests Teacher gives a prize
Play well in the (sport) game Best player prize
Study diligently Get good marks in exams
Study every evening Allowed out to meet their friends
We model for them that we like and value the reward system by doing things like

What is really interesting about this system is that, as adults, we think we are not subject to it when in fact, we are slaves to the same system. We feel hard done by if we have put in lots of work with little reward (like parenting can feel), if our endless parenting is not acknowledged by our partner, if our toil at work is not noticed by our employer. We need the praise and reward just as much as the kids do, meaning we are modelling that we need and value the system.

In the adults world




Go to work

Get paid

Work hard all week

Get a take out on Friday night

Save my money

Buy myself something I want

Consistent, patient  parenting

Children do as you ask J

Meet your targets

Get a bonus

Make money

Own a nice house/car

Handled a situation well with a child

Adult partner says ”you handled that well”

Handled a situation well at work

Employer acknowledges what you did

When our kids are babies, they can’t physically or mentally understand why any given task needs to be done-and so we do it for them. As a consequence, they instantly know how it feels to have others do things for them to have their needs met. This continues for the at least the first 3 years of their life so when parents begin to give the independence of doing the task themselves, back  over to the child they are like ”Hey, I’m not doing that, you do”. And so the battle begins.

Humans just respond to their environment, so if we start off praising them and them giving them objects(including screen time) then the human mind learns to understand that how system works.

 My experience is that there are a limited number of behaviours which humans are intrinsically motivated to engage in, everything else is part of a long game.

*Self esteem is like a windscreen, small cracks make it week and more likely to shatter.

** Extreme caution should be used when using anything that costs money as a motivator. You don’t know how long you have to use rewards with your child so using rewards that are money based (a trip to Smyth without a specific amount of money to be spent) can be expensive and difficult to maintain so they often don’t work in the long term. Also if you have other children, it can be seen as unfair.

Let’s Talk About It

What do you find yourself repeating to your children more than 10 times a day?