When i first started blogging, I was worried that I might become just another Mommy blogger. There is nothing wrong with being a Mommy Blogger, but I had this notion that, somehow, I would no longer have interests of my own. Obviously, that’s not how it actually works.
Another concern I had, as a parent who happens to be a geek, was that I would accidentally push my kids into being something they weren’t interested in becoming. I remember actively avoiding Star Trek during some phases of my teens, because I did not want to be associated with anything my parents were into. I wanted my kids to develop their own ideas of what was fun and interesting, even if they wanted a mini accounting set or a book about the latest boy band.
As luck would have it, I have two very bright young geeks. I won’t spend time talking about how some ridiculous people in the fan community would only count one of my children as a “legit” geek because she is a girl. Instead, I would like to focus on how amazing and wonderful it is that my kids have found their own interests. Additionally, when kids have interests, and parents want to provide incentives for good behavior, there are so many fabulous options available!
My son, SuperDude, is very interested in math and science. He loves computers and technology, and will dismantle gadgets if given half the chance. He loves Star Wars, Phineas and Ferb, Avatar: the Last Airbender, comics (especially TinTin), Superheroes (especially Spider-Man), and Harry Potter. He is also a very active child who loves to climb on everything, ask a lot of questions, and play basketball and baseball. What do you do with a very bright second-grader who gets so excited he literally bounces off walls? What kind of incentives work?
While your own mileage may vary, we have found that incentives, deterrents, and structure put together work beautifully. If he does something he knows he shouldn’t do, there is a chart where this is noted. Repeated misbehavior means a privilege will be revoked. For SuperDude, the most important privilege is computer time. We already have the kids set up with parental controls and a set timer that will log them out when their daily allowance of screen time is up. If SuperDude decides he must harass his sister, he loses this precious time. Serious behavior has occasionally resulted in his beloved Spider-Man plush being confiscated for a day. However, sometimes extra help around the house, a special grade on a test, or phenomenal behavior will net him extra time. Sometimes, there are even better incentives, like reading his Basher Science books with me, playing board games, or going someplace special. A great deal of amazing behavior, he knows, can result in a trip to the movies, or family movie together. Sometimes, he will receive a book he wants, such as more Basher books, a graphic novel, or a novel from a series he likes. He is going to be thrilled when he finds out he s getting his very own copy of The Hobbit!
Where SuperDude loves science and SF, my Pixie loves fantasy. She shares the enthusiasm for Phineas and Ferb, Avatar, and the Avengers, but she is also a huge fan of the Chronicles of Narnia. The Pixie’s teacher sends her home with a reading log to record what she reads each day. While this is an incentive for the students to read more, we sometimes have to make sure that she is reading less. If one doesn’t check in on her several times a night, one might miss that she is awake reading until she finishes “just one!” more chapter… She is very artistic, and loves making crafts, watching movies, and making up songs. Incentives are easy with her, because the goal of watching a family movie, helping in the kitchen, or getting a new Webkin appeals to her. That said, while I can take away computer time from SuperDude, it seems ridiculous to take away books from the Pixie as a punishment. Where her brother needs very careful structure, the Pixie really needs some free time and flowing schedules that will work with her much more anxious personality. She is the only person I have ever known who can listen to an audio book or audio play while reading something completely different, and come away knowing exactly what happened with both stories. She can do homework with the TV or music playing, because it is soothing to her. SuperDude needs to be kept from the distraction. While disallowing TV time sometimes works, the real deterrent for the Pixie is the idea that she might not get to have dessert! That’s an oldie, but it works well!
As for major incentives for not only great behavior, but a lot of extra help around the house? The idea of getting to attend a convention and go to children’s track activities is number one! After that, though, getting to see interesting places, especially museums, or going to a movie theater are tops! SuperDude is highly adventurous, and I took him on the tram to Roosevelt Island while the Pixie was at camp last summer. A little trip to Dylan’s Candy Bar afterward made it memorable. That is part of what makes living in New York so amazing – so many opportunities for kids to do great things! The Pixie remembers every time she has ever been to Alice’s Tea Cup, and she made a point of reading every single placard in the Egyptian wing at the Met. SuperDude is so excited every time we go to a Mets game, and he loved his school trip to Onderdonk House. And if local outings to theaters, restaurants, and museums are cool? You should see them when we actually get to go someplace out of town! In the past year, the kids have had a blast, and have seen all kinds of amazing places.
But, even if you don’t have access to national landmarks, giant candy stores, or endless museums, there are so many fun options available in this day and age. Sometimes, being allowed to watch trailers for movies they will later be allowed to see (Brave, Paranorman, Frankenweenie, etc.) is a great incentive for good behavior. Simply sitting down and teaching your kids to play a board game you love can be so rewarding for everyone involved. We had a Chinese Checkers tournament earlier this evening, as a matter of fact. The Pixie and I rolled out a huge sheet of paper a few weeks back and began planning a little fictional city just for fun. SuperDude loves building things together with Legos, Lincoln Logs, and/or Magnetix. We even have a daily time for family reading, where everyone sits with their current book or graphic novel for an hour or so. If all other incentives fail to inspire, let them decorate a giant cookie!
What it all comes down to, really, is getting to know your kids. What works best with their interests? What works best for their individual personality? In what ways can you spend time together as a family as part of a reward? I always feel that it is important to help children create as many positive memories as possible. I want my children to look back on childhood and remember everything that was great. I want them to recall of the fun times they had. I also want them to recognize that they earned s many of those great times by working hard to behave well and complete their tasks.
What have you found works best for your children?