When one of my children hit middle school, it became pretty impossible to parent for a number of reasons. We lived our days responding to crises. All our time and energy and resources went into the broken, the angry, the smart-aleck.
We tried to assure our other children that life would eventually be better, but I don’t think they really believed us. Our actions and our energies said differently. They said, “You get attention when you refuse to be part of the family, refuse to take responsibility for our own actions, and blame everyone but yourself for your problems.
A brilliant child psychologist taught us this. “You get what you reward.”
She suggested that our tendency to get in our child’s face to “fuss,” our establishing of eye contact and undivided attention when said child was out of control, our setting aside time to “problem solve”…all this granted attention to the bad behavior.
It was a head-slap moment.
She suggested we give as little time and attention to bad behavior as we possibly could. No eye contact. Even if we were directing commands to the child, we never locked eyes. No time spent explaining. No energy directed to “discussion.” Command, consequence. Period.
And our energy? our eye contact? our resources? Give that to the children that behave well. Find the behaviors you want to see again and talk then, establish eye contact then, build relationship then.
As a presbytery, as congregations, as lay leaders, church staff, and pastoral leaders, I think it is time to ask ourselves, “Are we getting what we are rewarding?”
It may be time to take a hard look at what gets our attention, our energy, our resources. It may be time to direct that attention, energy and resource to what we really want to nurture.
- Beth Utley