I'm still thinking about what I've learned from Dr. Ross Greene, Ph.D at Lives in the Balance. Dr. Greene has made some very interesting observations about kids that I've applied to my own life. I can tell you that in the short time that I've watched videos and read the tour there, my attitude has changed completely and I've developed new habits as a result. To summarize, I'm making a shift from punishment and reward for my kids to helping them solve problems.
I had this experience last night with my daughter Emily, who is two years old. She takes a bath every night and with that bath she has discovered the magic of a cup. She can fill the cup with water by submerging it and then pouring it out. In the past few nights, she has found a problem she wanted to solve: Can she empty the bath tub with the cup by filling it with water and pouring it out into the bigger tub surrounding the little tub she was in over and over until the tub is empty?
In the past, I would have interrupted her with the excuse that her quest would take too much time and we really need to get her to bed to sleep. I've done that and have had drama instead. Last night, however, I let her run her course. I let her see that when the water gets too low, it's harder to fill up the cup and at that point she lost interest, handed me the cup, stepped outside the little tub and dumped the water out. Problem solved.
Better yet, she had the satisfaction of learning the solution to the problem that she wanted to solve and can more easily move on to something else. I suspect she will want to try it one or two more times again before she gets bored and finally moves on. But I found that letting her have that experience demonstrates something very important: she can find her own motivation from the inside. I don't have to do anything to motivate her.
I only need to present a quiet, safe and nurturing environment for her to learn from it. She is already motivated and she only engages in drama when the environment presents demands that are beyond her ability to adapt to. This is not a question of motivation, it is a question of skills. As parents, our job is to teach kids the skills to adapt to the environment, not to punish them for failing to adapt.
In my move away from punishment and reward I have realized profound and lasting benefits from that experience, one being an almost complete absence of drama with my daughter.
There is another aspect of the punishment/reward philosophy that has become apparent to me in the past few days: punishment/reward leads to addiction. The punishment/reward philosophy leads to a dependence on external stimulus for motivation. In other words, if I engage in punishment and reward with my kids, I'm saying that they will find their motivation from me, not from inside their own heads and hearts.
A person raised on punishment and reward will spend the rest of their life going from stimulus to stimulus to find that reward instead of finding his own motivation to act from the inside. This also includes the motivation to manage and control impulses. Addicts cannot control their own impulses. Healthy people can.
Addicts can be addicted to many different stimuli for the reward, sex, drugs, money and people, to name a few. Here's the rub: we have no control over people, places and things. It is far easier to find peace and contentment from inside through our own motivation to do so than to depend on anything else outside. You know, like making a choice to be happy with what we have now rather than to be constantly seeking a hit from people, places and things.
Making a decision to be happy is a sign of maturity. Being grateful for what we have now is actually a skill. It's something we learn from our parents, mentors, friends, family, spouse and if we're lucky, our children. No matter what our disposition, it is still up to us to make a decision to be happy.
I know this because I've seen very wealthy people flit from thing to thing seeking that hit and just making a miserable time of their lives. I've also seen people of very meager means find happiness. Finding happiness is not just a decision, its a skill that we must learn in life so that we're not so dependent on people, places and things for it.
As a member of this culture, the one we call America, I see that so much of our culture promotes dependence on people places and things for our happiness. Buy this and be happy. Drink this and be happy. Wear this and be happy. Watch this and be happy. Send brave young men and women to war and be happy. Send those other people to prison and make them change so we can be happy. See where I'm going with this?
Our culture is all about addiction to people, places and things, and the only way we're going to get our next fix is by keeping all that stuff ready for our next hit. But if we learn the skill of finding happiness we can wean ourselves off the dependence of those people, places and things.
It seems to me that every form of therapy, from 12-Steps to Jung, is designed to teach us the skill to find happiness without dependence on other people, places and things to change or stay the same. Every addict requires someone else to change or stay the same. Every addict requires something to change or stay the same. Every addict requires some place to change or stay the same.
In the broader context, when I read about people doing really nasty stuff to other people, including war, I see that event in the context that one group of people want anther group of people to change. I also see war never ends because you can't change people.
People decide to change on their own without any help from anyone else - change is automatic. People change when they learn a new skill, like how to be happy. The diversion of our country's great resources from teaching and learning skills to war is evident in the shape of our economy.
That diversion is the great tragedy of our country. We went to war when we could have rebuilt our crumbling bridges and highways. We could have built more schools and hired more teachers. We could have built more hospitals and trained more nurses and doctors. We could have built a pervasive fiber network sea to sea, an internet for everyone here. We could pay tuition for everyone who wants to go to college. All for the cost of two wars.
As a people, a nation and a culture, we must learn to find happiness from the inside or we shall surely perish. Finding that happiness is a skill that we must learn and teach our kids. When we can move away from punishment and reward and focus on the skill of finding our own happiness, then and only then shall we know everlasting peace. That is the problem we must all solve. Together.