Friday, February 8, 2008

Crime and Punishment

ES came home with a surprisingly accurate self-assessment hidden in his school work today. They were learning about the Chinese calendar in his first grade class. In one of his worksheets, he was provided with a table of the Chinese calendar, and he had to answer a few questions:

What is the animal name for your birth year? snak [snake]

How are you like that animal? I get upset esulee.

Survey Says??? Yep! Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding!

That's a pretty darn good introspection / self assessment for a six year old, don't you think?

That's sort of a tangential segway into my next topic...

How do you motivate your kids to follow instructions?

The sword I've been holding over by boys' heads is video games. As in, "If you don't (do this thing that I need you to do but you don't want to do like take a bath or practice your spelling), then I'm not going to let you play video games (for the rest of the day or tomorrow)." When I stop to think about it though, is this really effective punishment though? I'm thinking maybe not.

First, it's more of a punishment on LW and me than it is on the boys. No video games for a day means our house will look like someone set off a bomb in FAO Schwarz. I know that sounds horrible. I'm basically implying I like my kids being video-game-couch-potatoes so that they sit and stare at the TV and don't make a mess of the house. It's a sad statement, but it's so TRUE though. There's a remarkable difference in the clutter in our house when they lose video game privileges.

Second, taking away video game privileges is actually a positive thing for them, because it means they'll be forced to get up and play and interact with their friends in the neighborhood more. I suppose they don't see it that way, because they get very upset (Aside: see! I told you it was sorta related to the story I started with!) when they lose video game privileges.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like the boys spend every waking moment playing video games. They've actually become very good friends with our neighbors J & M across the street. If J & M are home, then chances are they're all outside playing and making a colossal mess of our front yards and garages. If J & M go somewhere though, it's like there is a black hole in the family room with an irresistable gravitational pull sucking the boys back into the video games. I suppose LW and I need to make more of an effort to get the boys to clean up their messes at the end of the day (but more on this concept below).

It's very frustrating, especially with ES, to get him to do things he needs to do like his homework, practice his spelling, pick up the messes he makes, etc. I wish his little 6 year old mind would respond to logic and reason. I keep trying to explain to him that if he would just sit down and DO his homework, it would be DONE in like 30 minutes and he could spend the rest of the day playing. Instead, he spends an hour or more whining about it and making big dramatic sighs and ever-so-slowly-and-agonizingly writing the answers on his paper while he holds his forehead in his hand with his elbow on the table. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! IT'S THREE STINKING WORKSHEETS!!! (And one-sided at that!) JUST DO IT!!!

I know I've seen and met other people who just seem to have a magical quality to relate to kids on their own level and motivate them to do things they don't want to do all while using a cheery-happy voice. I'm definitely not one of those people. I'm a very logic-oriented, cost-benefit analysis type of person, so I just don't understand why he won't just do it and be done with it and enjoy the rest of his day. There must be a better way. I could try Uncle Dave's approach and wrap his homework in a dinner roll... oh wait... No, that probably wouldn't work either.

Maybe I should try threatening to not let him play with J & M if he doesn't do what he's told. That worked with getting him to do his homework tonight. My concern over this tactic is the exact opposite of my concern over taking away video games though. If we don't let him play with J&M, then he WILL spend every waking moment playing video games. Then the house won't be as messy, but then he'll lose the physical exercise and the social aspect aspect of it.

So I'm darned if I do it one way and I'm darned if I do it the other way. Clearly, I have not yet discovered the key to being an awesome parent. Maybe we should invite that Super Nanny lady from the TV to come tell us what we're doing wrong.

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