The Carrot and the Stick
A while ago I figured out that I’m a carrot and a stick kind of person. You know the little donkey that doesn’t want to work so you hang a carrot from a pole just out of his reach. The idea is he will walk and try to reach the carrot thereby hauling your load or pulling your cart.
When I was a teacher, I realized that most people operate on the same principle. You give them a reward to work for and 97 percent of the time they do it. I know I do. I also know that 3 percent of the time I have to beat myself with the stick.
Managing youth can be the same way. Have a meeting with them and let them know “the ropes” so to speak. Let them know what you will do and what you will not do. For example, “I grade papers that are handed in on time first. Papers that are handed in late will be graded when I find the time.” “Children with clean rooms get to eat dinner when it is hot. Children with messy rooms get to eat after their room is cleaned.” “I listen to people that use appropriate words. People that swear get ignored.” I am sure you get the idea. You tell them what you will do. The only person in the equation you can control is yourself so let them know you are in control of yourself, and they can be as well.
The most effective way for everyone to learn is from modeling. Most teenagers feel out of control. They are going through rapid physical changes, hormonal changes, thought processes are changing, and many may be going through family changes. You need to model what it is like to be in control, and they will learn. When you stay calm and do what you said you would, they learn they can as well.
If something comes up that was not discussed, stay calm and tell them, “This is new for me. I’m not sure what to do, but don’t you worry. I’ll think about it, and we will discuss this tomorrow. Please try not to worry.” Then set a time to get with them later. This lag time gives you time to figure out what you are going to do and seek input from others you trust. It also gives you time to really calm down and think clearly. I know I have been calm on the outside and freaking out on the inside. I can’t think very well then, and I make mistakes.
The good thing, a bad decision can always be followed by a good one. Mistakes are not the end of the world and not every behavior has to be addressed right now. Remember, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark” (C. H. Spurgeon). Sometimes I would have to remind myself how much I loved my job and why I was doing it. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others and sometimes that means using the carrot and other times using the stick.
The stick is used about 3 percent of the time, and the way it is used is with natural or logical consequences. I learned about natural and logical consequences from Jim Fey and Foster Cline. They have a parenting program called Love and Logic, and I use it all the time. I highly recommend to everyone dealing with people because it works for all ages.
I remember very clearly my three-year old complaining about the cold one day. A natural consequence is to let him be cold. I had asked him before we left if he would like to put his coat on. I explained when he said no that is was very cold outside. He still said no. I knew we would be in a warm car soon and that he would not be freezing to death or getting frost bite so I let him go without his coat. When we got in the car, he complained about being cold. I said, “That is what happens when you don’t have a coat. I am so glad I chose to wear mine. I am nice and warm.” I had discussed with the rest of the family beforehand that no one was to loan him a coat. We had been having some problems with getting him to wear his coat, and it was time for him to learn what he could control and what he couldn’t. The easiest way to control your body temperature is to dress appropriately.
The best part of this story occurred a few weeks later when I forgot my coat. A little voice from the backseat said, “That’s what happens when you forget your coat.” Touché. He had learned the lesson and was now able to teach others.
When logical or natural consequences do the teaching, I am not the bad guy, and I am in control of myself and responding appropriately to things around me. Some people have a hard time with cause and effect. By teaching them what happens when rules are not followed they can learn that the world is not out of control. The universe is just following the rules that have been in place forever. It is the natural order of things and responses can be learned.
Spend some time discussing what behaviors you would like to address first. Then figure out the natural or logical consequences that would follow. Configure responses as to what you will and will not do. Practice using your responses with your friends. Now it is time to implement. Give this new way of dealing with behavior some time to sink in for you and for them. You will be glad you did.
“By perseverance the snail reached the ark.” C. H. Spurgeon and the donkey pulled your load where you wanted him to.