Friday, December 6, 2013
By KJ DELL’ANTONIA
A recent parental quandary was mine, or, at least, mine and a whole lot of other people's. The problem? Children squabbling madly away in the car. I offered my solution in a video when I first posted it online: I will give a Tic Tac to any child who can get through a car ride without poking, prodding or otherwise antagonizing a sibling.
(The video includes some of the more stellar examples of my children misbehaving in the car because of another of my not-necessarily-endorsed-by-child-rearing-experts parenting techniques: we video tantrums for later playback and commentary and, of course, so that we will have ammunition against them when they're teenagers. Not really. Well, I think not really -- they're not teenagers yet.)
Mine was not a solution that received universal accolades from commenting readers. Ellen wrote:
"The risk of rewarding kids for doing what they should do anyway is that they will not be motivated to behave without the reward. And that's not how the world works.
"In addition, using food as a reward (or punishment) can create an increasingly unhealthy relationship with food. It's not supposed to be a reward or comfort, and many people with disordered eating have to unlearn that.
"I had a colleague who would give his son a 'special treat' for getting in his car seat. But that shouldn't be rewarded ... ever. It's just what you do every time you get in a car. The kid quickly came to expect a treat for everything.
"Sometimes there aren't easy answers to behavior problems. Sometimes parents just have to be firm / be the bad guy / take away a favored toy or anticipated activity. And sometimes they just have to pull over and wait it out if they can't tolerate bad behavior and drive at the same time."
The parenting coach Vicki Hoefle posted that the trouble with offering a reward is that the demands will escalate: "Tic Tacs are a quick fix -- they'll eventually try to upgrade to slurpees and icees etc." Her suggestion, and many, many of you agreed, was simple and candy-free: pull the car over when the squabbling begins.
Personally, I found that to be a mixed bag, and a good example of how a piece of parenting counsel that's excellent under some circumstances can fail you in others. During the dramatic, full-blown tantrums that happen once in a while (and which I put snippets of into the video for illustrative purposes), pulling over can work, and we do it. We have had full-blown baseball games held in fields by the entire rest of the family while their sibling wrapped a tantrum, still in the car, and I have read many a magazine while a real fight worked itself out in the back seat.
But pulling over every time one child snapped out a "poopyhead," or decided to hold a desired book just out of reach of a sibling and taunt him or her, just meant that every time, the small battle ended immediately -- only to start again on the next ride. My goal wasn't to end an individual squabble, but break the habit that led to the squabbling in the first place by creating a team incentive to behave differently. They enjoy the Tic Tacs; they find it fun to try to get the Tic Tacs; and frequently they forget about the Tic Tacs; but the pattern of car behavior really did change (and it never escalated because my children aren't allowed to eat in the car -- even the Tic Tacs are only distributed after the ride has come to a complete stop and all riders have exited the vehicle).
(Continued on page 2)