Seems like lately, in this column, I’ve been talking a lot about issues related to my daughter’s behavior. Everything from sneakiness to her being extra-friendly to strangers. Specifically, I’ve been writing about how I interpret the things she says and does and how her actions often shine a light on my own issues.
All of this got me wondering about where good vs. bad behavior begins in a child. How does my child come to define what’s good and bad beyond what I teach her? Does it just derive from the consequences of her actions? A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ garners her a high five and = Good. Standing on my couch and diving headfirst onto the floor gets her disciplined and = Bad. If that’s the case, then are we saying my child is no different than Fido, the dog or Chloe, the cat?
Gosh, I hope not.
As a mother, I do the best I can to provide my daughter with all the tools she needs to make the best choices for her life. Some of that are faith-based lessons and others are more practical. At two, it may really mean I will have a reward/consequence response to her behavior. But I can’t help but to keep asking myself this: If I continue, as she grows older, to just reward good and bad behavior and create this kind of Pavlov-ish response in my child, am I missing the opportunity to develop the most important parts of her being?
Her Heart. Her character.
See I don’t necessarily want my child to do the right thing because she’s going to get a desired response from me or anyone else. Like I said, that’s cool for a developing toddler but it screams “people pleaser” when she’s sixteen years old. And truth be told, I don’t want her to NOT to do the wrong thing simply because she’s deathly afraid of the consequences. Sure, my internal mommy-alarm says “if fear keeps my baby from drinking underage, driving recklessly etc., then so be it.” But then what happens when she isn’t scared anymore?
So I think I’m going to shift both my perspective and approach a little. I don’t want the decisions K makes to be determined by just external factor. Especially when it’s the internal ones that matter in the long run. Until she experiences the awesome presence of God herself and all the spiritual guidance that comes with that, I want to cultivate her heart. Through dialogue, object lessons and, maybe more importantly, what I model to her via my own behavior, I want to embed in her character things like integrity, honesty, compassion, mercy, and grace. That way, her desire to do good (or to not be bad) is rooted in who she is—her character—as opposed to what she might or might not get.
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This post is the latest in Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Faith & Motherhood” series.
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.