We have liftoff. The bribery paid off, even if it is for just a little while. My 2 1/2 year old son, who calls himself Michael, (after the younger brother in “Peter Pan.” I prefer to call him Gozer the Gozerian, he’s so full of surprises) just did the deed in the proper receptacle. It’s been months since he has been aware of the functions of elimination, but he has flatly and vociferously refused to try the toilet. Even while he’s in the bath and needs to go.

Well, this morning, after having drilled it into him that he will be rewarded with M&Ms, he began the dance. He twirled, ran in circles, jumped up and down, grabbed his Buggy (the blanket crocheted for Derek by his Grandmother when he was born 28 years ago, none the worse for wear, except the one corner that is his current favorite, which he unravelled the other day, and which is also an alarming shade of grey) and sucked his thumb with abandon, all while yellling, “I don’t want to! I don’t want to! No, no, no!” I finally just picked him up, transported him to the bathroom, shooed Calvin and T-man (who were playing in there with the space shuttle. ???), and plunked him on the toilet. Within seconds, it was all over. He hugged me, I hugged him. We called Derek. There was much rejoicing.

You are gopher launch. Just in case anyone was wondering. That’s what the boys are currently saying about the space shuttle. They missed their cue by about 15 minutes.

So I think I have finally been cured of the damage done by a neighbor a few years ago. She insisted I read the book “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. I read it and thought a lot about the problems of rewards as opposed to intrinsic motivation. I have been reluctant to use any sort of reward when dealing with my children, including praise. My mind has been changed through lots of thought, as well as additional reading of other parenting books. My current favorite is “Christlike Parenting,” by Dr. Glenn Latham. He talks about showing your kids how to behave through example and love. Dr. Latham advocates positive reinforcement for good behavior, rather than punishment for bad behavior. His method requires greater self-control that I am good at, but I am willing to try to improve my approach. He teaches that children should be allowed to exercise their moral agency, and to reap the benefits or suffer the natural conseqences of their actions. Priviledges are gained or lost, depending on those choices. Just like in the real world.

Which one of us does not act based upon known rewards or consequences? We go to work to reap the benefit of a paycheck. We change the oil in the car so it won’t break. We exercise so people will tell us we look good. Or maybe so we will feel good. We go to church so we can learn to be better people, so we can get to Heaven. Isn’t that the basic model of our lives? We believe in rewards.

I just hope I can keep myself from stealing Gozer’s M&Ms.

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