When I was maybe 3-4 years old, my parents played along with a magic trick I discovered in my imagination. It worked like this. I thought of something I wanted, placed a blanket on the floor, and walked around it three times, bowing towards the blanket slowly and repeatedly saying, “magic, magic”. I would then leave the room knowing that what I wanted would be there if I just gave the magic time to work.
At first, I asked for a candy bar or a Hostess cupcake. When I would come back in the room I would see a bump under the blanket and know that my magic had succeeded. This worked for a day or two because I wasn’t too greedy. Deep in my subconscious, I didn’t want to mess up a good thing by overdoing it. However, by the third day I was feeling very generous and powerful. What good fortune for my parents to have a child with special powers! I could provide for them whatever they wanted if they just asked.
Obviously, this could easily get out of control and my last successful trick produced a six pack of bottled Coke for my mom and dad. It was my largest gift thus far. I told my mom to just let me know if she needed something and I would take care of it. If not reigned in, I would soon need a much larger blanket and my parents would need better paying jobs.
I truly believed I had the magic touch. My parents were getting a kick out of my performance and enjoyed feeding my imagination, but this could not go on. The charade was over when my blankets lay flat after a couple of unsuccessful magic sessions. When I told my mom something was wrong, she admitted they had placed the desired objects under the blanket. I was crushed at first! But even at my young age, I knew it was too good to be true. My parents went along with my act for me, not having given much thought to how to take away my powers.
When you’re a little kid, getting something without working for it is normal and necessary. Children are totally dependent on their parents. But as kids grow older, they need to learn that there is usually a cost to any benefit. The cost doesn’t have to be ominous or punishing. Sometimes the cost itself is enjoyable. The only thing the cost has to be is giving in some manner. Getting is all about giving first.
As a young magician, the only thing I had to give to get was my talent to make things appear. My return was many times my effort. Beyond that, I was also very generous to my parents. I offered anything they asked for because, ‘Ha!’ it was as easy as a few trips around a blanket and a couple of magic words. Real generosity, however, requires much more effort. Getting something for nothing sounds like a great deal, but it isn’t in the long run. Keeping your children in this make believe world too long will have a negative impact on their values and an unrealistic expectation of life.
Kids need to learn the value of working for a return. Sure, you owe them food, clothing, and shelter when they are helpless. But as they become able, they need to help the family by first picking up after themselves, then becoming contributing members of the team. A team called ‘your family’. Most parents find this difficult to implement for a couple of reasons. First of all, kids often complain, cry, or protest. Secondly, kids can cause more work than they eliminate. It can be frustrating and exhausting. But parents must know that they are building character in their children, not mini-maids and/or handymen to make life easier for themselves.
Chores and Special Jobs
Normal chores around the house should be assigned as age appropriate and not be rewarded with money. Children are rewarded enough by the comforts they share. However, extra jobs around the house, or around the neighborhood, should come with some sort of pay. Shoveling an elderly neighbors driveway would be a nice gesture of giving, but also worth of reimbursement if the neighbors are willing and able to pay. Rewards (pay or recognition) demonstrate the value of their efforts.
This spring I plan on paying my young grandchildren to pick up all the sticks and fallen branches at my farmhouse. They will be paid according to their effort and results. The biggest branch pile compared to their physical size will get the most quarters and so on. More effort, more pay! It’s all about building character!
As kids grow older and become interested in going to movies, buying clothes, or having a smart phone, or even a car, etc., it wouldn’t do them well to just give them what they want. Let them work for what they want. Give them what they need and can’t afford.
Recognition and Reinforcement
It’s important that parents notice and praise their children when they exhibit responsibility, determination, and charity. Positive reinforcement works best for good acts and deeds. Giving in the pleas, begging, and complaining, is also reinforcement, but it certainly is to the detriment of good behavior and character.
We all have busy lives! Careers, hobbies, sports, bills, health, education, so many things to do and think about. But family has to be at the top of your list of responsibilities. As a former pilot, I was taught that in an emergency the most important thing to do was fly the plane. Only after the plane is under control can the pilot talk to ground control, direct passengers, flip switches, etc. Remember, mom and dad are the pilot and co-pilot of the family. Hopefully, they are both present in any family emergency, spending all their time fixing the emergency, ignoring anything else. This extends to putting family first in daily life—as much as possible.
Have a told you anything you don’t already know? I doubt it! But consider this a reminder because sometimes the obvious escapes us. An article from businessinsider.com discusses thirteen things parents of successful kids have in common. It’s a good article to read and remember. It also helps in “Making Kids Smart About Life”!