We like celebrating in our house. We do birthday parties. We took our daughter out to eat for her 18-month birthday. My husband just earned his bachelor’s degree and he’s already requested going out for a nice dinner. (We like to eat.) I like to treat my daughter when she’s been extra patient or well-behaved for me, not always with food, but I like to give her little rewards.
We live in a world of sticker charts for completed chores, M&Ms for going on the potty, even cash for losing a tooth. Dessert for finishing dinner… ah, who are we kidding, dessert for trying just a bite of dinner. We celebrate dance recitals with bouquets of flowers, give party guests gifts for showing up, and get our big kids to clean their rooms with the promise of divulging the WiFi password. Even video stores celebrate kids’ good report cards with free movie rentals.
Celebrating is good! Rewards tend to work – that’s why we keep doing it. And with some time and teaching, those outward rewards eventually turn into inward motivation. What do I mean? As they’re learning, kids have a hard time motivating themselves to do a task, like making the bed, so we reward them for doing it. As they do the task more and more, we should be able to remove the reward and they’ll still have the motivation to do it. At that point it’s an inward motivation. They do it because now it’s habit or because they’ve learned that they’re expected to do what they’re told.
Maybe your littles would benefit from some celebrating after worship. Not that you survived, although that alone might constitute a reward, but maybe for some specific things your kids did particularly well. Did he participate in singing all the songs this week? Did she sit quietly through the sermon? Did they fold their hands during prayers or say the Lord’s Prayer along with everyone? All those things might be worthy of a reward.
How can we reward our littles? Of course, whatever works for you. I tend toward food-related treats, but have been known to spring for a small toy too. But maybe your kids earn some extra screen time, get to stay up a little longer at bedtime, or you stop for lunch at a place you don’t normally go. You could even pay attention to ways you can reward your kids while you’re at church. Maybe your little really wants to help with an ushering duty like handing out bulletins or helping collect the offering. You can use those acts of service as ways to motivate your kids, “If we can get our shoes on and get in the car you can help pass out bulletins at church.”
Of course, we have to be careful with how we use rewards. We have to take care that we’re not bringing up kids who feel entitled to rewards no matter what. A reward is given for completing a task to your satisfaction. Don’t feel like you have to celebrate or reward something that almost was done. We’re still holding kids to gracious expectations. Remember, the goal with these reward systems is that kids eventually move from needing that outer reward to learning to find that motivation in themselves. We also have to follow through. If we promise and they hold up their end of the deal, so should we.
And seriously, when you do survive worship, because there are times where you will pray you just get through this one service (and you will get through it), take a nap, eat a cookie, watch a movie. Celebrating is important for you too!