On Parenting an Internally Motivated Child and an Unmotivated One

This morning our dog, who is getting old and I believe is starting to become senile, had an accident. I sprayed some cleaner on it and when I went to put it up, I looked into the living room and found that Sissy had grabbed the rag I had out and was already scrubbing the carpet with it. While I was proud of her for wanting to help clean up a mess, it’s not a task I want my 21 month old doing, but it didn’t surprise me that Sissy tried to help. It’s what she does.

She “helps” me unload the dishwasher. She helps me pick up. She is always asking for napkins when we eat so she can wipe her face and hands. When she realizes I’m getting ready to leave, she starts gathering everyone’s shoes and socks and brings them to me. I could go on and on, but the point is that Sissy helps out. Well, as much as she is able to considering her age and small size.

I’m glad she’s a little helper. Trust me, I need it. But there are things I worry about.

Namely, Buddy. Who has the nickname Wreck-It. Essentially we put all of the toys, books, DVDs, etc, in a room and lock him out of it. If he gets into it it is trashed in under 10 minutes. And he won’t clean up after himself. Rewards do not motivate him, punishment does not deter him, and going hand over hand results in hours of frustrating manual labor for Andy and I to essentially force him to clean up after him that just leaves all three of us cross and angry. So at night I take out toys, books and videos for them to watch for the upcoming day and keep him away from the room at all costs.

And so it goes with Buddy. Some days he will put his plate in the sink. Other days he won’t. Sometimes he will help. Other times he won’t. And there’s no way I’ve found that I can entice him to helping with chores consistently.

Thus far Sissy has been developing typically. I have no concerns about autism with her. So she’s likely going to grow up as the typical child who has a sibling with disabilities and have those burdens. This is also one of the many reasons I wish I’d had Sissy first, because she does have such an intrinsic desire to help. But I worry about burdening her with all of the chores and responsibilities. And I especially don’t want to send the message that Buddy doesn’t have to do housework because he’s a boy while Sissy has to do it because she’s a girl and it’s expected.

I’ve thought about rewarding Sissy for her household contributions, but social psychology 101, if you reward a child for doing something they like, they tend to stop liking it so much. Ever heard of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation? When we do something because we want to, that’s intrinsic motivation. When we do something because we are compelled to, that’s extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is pretty much always better than extrinsic motivation, because even if no one is motivating you, you’ll still do it. For instance, people who love to read will read regardless of whether or not there’s a test on the book, whereas someone else will read a book only if there’s going to be a test on it and they care about their grade.

Since Sissy already seems intrinsically motivated to help, I want to nurture that. But therein lies the problem. I thought about having a rewards chart and letting Buddy and Sissy put a sticker on it if they helped pick up their toys at the end of the day, but while that might help Buddy clean up, it would also likely destroy Sissy’s internal motivation, quite simply because rewarding a child for doing something they find intrinsically rewarding gives them an externally motivating factor to do it.

For instance, if you give a child who loves to read pizza for reading a lot of books, they’ll stop enjoying reading as much. However, if you give a child who doesn’t like to read pizza when they read a certain number of books, they’ll start to like it and read more.

So I feel kinda stuck. Do I do the rewards chart and entice Buddy to help around the house and sacrifice Sissy’s internal motivation? Or do I just try to get them into a clean up routine in the evening and hope Buddy will eventually start to pull his weight? For the moment at least Sissy doesn’t seem put out at all by the fact that Buddy doesn’t help out, but if he doesn’t start I have a feeling that will change as they get older.

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