When Fear Isn't Enough

Fear can be a terrific motivator for a child.  It can drive him/her to clean their room even if they don’t want to.  It can make a child perform better in school (fear of failure or fear of peer embarrassment) than they would have originally thought.  It can also keep a child’s behavior in line during those push comes to shove moments.  Yes, fear can be a wonderful thing to have and a great parenting tool as well.  So, why can’t fear alone make a child be the perfect angel, get the best grades in school, and/or be the ultimate parenting tool?

I would honestly say that 90% of the children I’ve worked with (my own included) have feared me- at least somewhat.  But, fear has limits.

Here’s an example.  I can make my children clean their room any time I want.  It’s not difficult because most of the time fear is an external motivator.  My children don’t want to see me upset or receive consequences; therefore the room gets cleaned quickly.  But, if fear worked all the time, my children’s rooms would stay clean consistently even if I weren’t hovering over them.   It is possible to make fear an overriding motivator but only if I want to get a bit extreme.  For example, if I threatened to spank them each time I saw an unkempt room; that could possibly work although there are no guarantees.  I’ve actually never spanked my children.  My suspicions are that it would also take a few beating to get the message across.  Surely, there has to be a better way.  In this case, there is.

The trick is to turn an external motivator such as fear into an internal motivation within the child.  This may sound like high level psychology but I’ll bet some of you do this more often than you think.  Here’s an example in my home.

Desired Behavior: Putting on a Seatbelt

In this case, I created the great seat belt race.  I hate getting into a car and waiting for everyone to get in properly and get their seat belts on.  Therefore, we have competitions.  You may be surprised how often I come in last.  My 7 year old has been taught the safety of seat belts.  But, my 4 year old just wants to win.  The truth is I could use fear to get them to hurry up but I like my method a lot better.

Don’t get me wrong.  A little fear inside a child can be healthy as long as a parent understands its limits.  There are plenty of times I use it to get what I need.  My goal as a parent though is to teach, encourage, and model various behaviors until my children have an internal motivation to do them on their own.  It’s a long and lengthy process but one that is well worth it.

I will write to you again Friday.  Have a terrific week!

One comment

  1. Krista says:

    I like your seat belt game. Great idea.