Friday, January 1, 2010

Thanking our Children for Poor Behavior

I am not a stellar mother. I sometimes let my kids eat chocolate cake for breakfast.  I have been known to hide from them in the bathroom.

But here's at least one thing I get right: I don't thank them for poor behavior--ever. You may be thinking Well, duh, nobody thanks their kids for being bad. Let me just share a little scenario with you and you can see if you recognize anyone.

Dad at McDonalds Playland entrance: Sophie, it's time to leave. Come out now.
Sophie: Whines and doesn't come. She continues playing.
Dad: Sophie, come on! We're leaving.
Sophie: She continues playing.
[repeat three more times]
Sophie: Finally stops playing and comes to get her coat.
Dad: Thank you, Sophie.

Did he just say thank you? Thanks for what? Thanks for finally obeying your father after like 10 minutes of ignoring him? What are the odds that Sophie will do what her father says the next time he tells her something? What's the incentive?

I don't know if it has to do with that self-esteem BS or some misguided attempt to teach manners, but no one, even children, needs to be thanked for doing what they are supposed to do.

Now, yes, children can be praised for being cooperative and helpful, but kids who are old enough to handle the McDonald's Playland on their own are old enough to be held accountable for following simple instructions.

Sophie is smart. She's just as bright as her parents think she is, which is why Sophie has figured out that listening to Mom and Dad is optional. And if she does finally get around to doing what they ask--she will be thanked.

Sophie will have to go out in the big world someday. A big world where bosses, colleagues and friends will not have the time or inclination to express their appreciation every time she gets around to doing what she's been asked to do.

Watch out Sophie. My kids will be there in the big world too; young people who have more self-respect than self-esteem, hustlers who understand the value of a job well done. Actually, it won't be hard for my kids to outshine the Sophies of the world. Sophie, send my thanks to your Dad.

[Note: Sophie is not any actual child. She represents all the kids who are being over-esteemed by their parents.]


  1. Great post! Working at the library I see this scenario, too, and I work with young employees who are both Sophies and your children, guess who I enjoy working with?!

  2. Ya know, I do this all the time. It's a combination of habit -- I say "thank you" to every frickin' thing --and a thank-goodness-this-didn't-drag-out-into-a-fit. I'll have to pay closer attention to when I use the phrase, "thank you," and what it's really saying to my kids. And yeah, I already knew we had to look out for the Michael kids. ;) Thank you for the thought-provoking post. (There I go again ... .)

  3. Hi! Just found you by clicking the "Next Blog" button. Great post! And although I consider myself a pretty easy going mom/person (one look at my house would disqualify me from any Perfect Mommy competition), every trip to the grocery store makes me feel like a complete hardass! My kids never get rewarded if they whine and cry for things. They get told directly "Whining and crying will not get you what you want so you'd better stop it NOW!"

    Our kids may not thank us now, but they'll thank us later.

  4. Thanks for the comments and for stumbling upon my site. I wrote this thinking I might be alone in my old fashioned approach but I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one concerned about the future of suburban parenting.


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