Like everything else that comes with parenthood, the road to teaching our kids good values and ethics is fraught with hilarious fails. Here are four important lessons parents tried to teach their children that completely backfired, and tips on how you can avoid making the same mistakes.
#1 The kid that broke the reward system
“I wanted to teach my son the value of money and work ethic because he kept wanting Robux. I decided it would be a great teaching moment, and a win-win opportunity as he was just getting to the age in which I think he should start doing chores around the house. So I created a chore chart, gave each chore a value, and established a schedule. It was working out majestically – everyday without asking, he was doing the dishes, cleaning his room, picking up the dog poop… it was epic.
Then one day, I came home and nothing had been done. When I asked him “Hey man, what’s up with the dishes? Oh, and go pick up the dog poop too.” He simply replied, “Nah.” He had made enough money over the last few days that he bought what he wanted, and was good for now. It was hard to argue.”
The reward system (otherwise known as giving extrinsic motivation) may seem like an effective method of changing or improving a child’s behaviour. But not only will this potentially cause the child to end said positive behaviour once parents stop the rewards (or in this case, once their goal has been achieved), it can also teach the child to expect a reward in exchange for what’s requested.
For smaller goals or everyday chores, tap on your child’s intrinsic (internal) motivation. This begins from toddlerhood – start offering opportunities for your little one to get involved. Whether it’s allowing them to dry off a dish, wiping down the table, or helping you water the plants, giving your child the chance to contribute to the task allows them to form positive associations and gain a sense of accomplishment to the task at hand.
#2 The kid that totally missed the point
“When my older son was about three or four years old, we realised he was starting to act very spoiled and materialistic. We always tried to make him see how lucky he already had it, but he constantly begged us for every toy, candy, and treat he saw anywhere and everywhere.
Around that time, I came across a great photo spread that involved the photographer travelling around the world and snapping photos of different children with their most prized possessions. Of course, the kids in the US, Canada, and Europe were mostly photographed in rooms filled with stuff. But there were also photos of children from impoverished nations, usually showing the child with only one old, dirty stuffed animal.
I thought I was going to accomplish this brilliant parenting move by sitting him down and going through the photos with him. I’d explain how the kids with rooms like his were beyond lucky and he should feel more than satisfied with all of the great stuff that he had. Then I would show him the other photos and he would finally understand that there are so many other children in the world with far less than he had.
We looked through the photos and talked about each one. We finally got to one with a little boy standing on his cot with his one possession, a well-loved, dingy-looking stuffed monkey. My son looked at if for a long time. I could see his wheels spinning. “Success!” I thought. After a long bit of silence, he finally looked up at me, gave me a sweet smile and said, “I want that monkey.”
Used to being given more than what they need, it’s unsurprising that some children require more than a “show and tell” session to understand just how fortunate they are. This behaviour could be a result of misguided parenting practices; researchers have found that certain parenting strategies such as rewarding children for their accomplishments, giving gifts to show affection, and punishing children by taking away their possessions can inadvertently promote materialism. But this materialistic behaviour could also be a reflection of the parents’ own consumer habits. After all, if mummy and daddy were constantly buying things, why wouldn’t junior follow suit?
Where parenting strategies are concerned, it is important to strike a good balance. There are plenty of ways to shower your child with affection instead of buying them everything they want. And taking away a child’s privileges as a form of punishment should be more than confiscating their prized possessions.
As for the latter, the key to teaching kids to be grateful, live with lesser, and show more empathy, lies with role modelling said behaviour ourselves. Put those values in practice by tweaking your consumer habits (buy what you need only!), involving the family in volunteer work, and focus on quality time over splurging on expensive experiences.
#3 The kid that barfed all over dad’s rules
“My dad tried to implement the whole “You must eat all the food on your plate in our house” rule during meals. My mum was never a fan of that lesson, but my dad was stubborn so she just let it go. Well one day, my sibling had two to three bites of food left on their plate and it was very clear that they were absolutely full and couldn’t eat another bite. Dad wasn’t having it and insisted that they could not leave the table until all of the food on the plate was gone. My sibling realised they weren’t going to convince our dad that they were too full and finished the last few bites and then proceeded to vomit on the table and our dad. He stopped enforcing the rule after that.”
Lesson learned: Setting rules and making sure they are consistently enforced is important, but so is having the ability to recognise when you’re taking it too far. There’s a clear difference between an authoritarian versus being authoritative. The former undermines the parent-child relationship and sets up room for behavioural problems.
Try this: Enforcing discipline and implementing boundaries can be tricky, but instead of going all “it’s my way or the highway” learn how to pick your battles and when to stand your ground. A good rule to stick by is one that makes sense or adds value to your child in the long run; rules that keep your child from getting hurt, teaches personal integrity, or helps them get along with others, etc. But if the rule revolves around setting standards of behaviour to suit your personal preferences, then perhaps it can be relaxed every once in awhile.
#4 The kid that chose “wisely”
“The two-year-old was refusing to wear her hat. It was hot, so I told her that if she didn’t put her hat on, she would have to wait in the car. She started walking away from me, and when I asked her where she was going, she replied, “Car.”
Lesson learned: We all know that offering choices to an uncooperative child not only helps us avoid power struggles, but also give the child a sense of control and encourages bonding. But the only way this can be a win-win solution, is if the options given are ones that are within your parameters.
Try this: When giving a child the option to choose, make sure that both have acceptable consequences for you. In this case, heading to the car was meant as a punishment, without it being a viable solution for the parent. For future reference, saying “Would you like to put on your hat right now, or should I do it for you?” should work better.
Bonus: This one is more funny than fail, but we’re including it anyway!
“Taught my now 16-year-old to always compliment people who insulted you. We were in a Burlington Coat Factory in Michigan when my mother was shopping for a bathing suit to take to Florida. There were few to choose from, so she was complaining. My kid was four. A woman trying on pants and said something rude to my mom who was asking my opinion and my daughter caught on that my mother was agitated. She squeezed out behind me and told the woman, “Your teeth are such a pretty yellow!”