Parenting Question


I understand the idea of “making it worth their while” in parenting.  However, could you give me some specific examples so I can understand how to apply it?  My youngest (of four) is fourteen–a darling daughter that I cherish.  I have taught her piano for a decade and still can’t seem to “make it worth her while” so she can really progress and come to use and enjoy it.  Also, feed her dog w/o reminding daily; be more outwardly pleasant to people (so she can make new friends as a freshmen going into a charter school with none of her other acquaintances), and so forth.

Also, can I make it “worth my sons while” to prepare earlier for events, like leaving for BYU in August; packing for his mission next year, etc.  To keep my anxiety level lower I need to prepare in advance but I don’t want to stress the relationship by constantly prodding him.  He’s very responsible, but doesn’t do things on my timetable.  I want to have family peace before he leaves for these events.

Another daughter has three young children and she says they are going through a stage of just being mean to each other and calling names, i.e. “give it to me, stupid”.  She says no matter the “time outs”, “the lessons”, etc., they still continue.  I’m just trying to get some examples of “making it worth your while” that you mention in your book, Choosing Glory.


I have often said that the idea of a parent controlling a child is a short-lived myth. We don’t control anyone else, in the long term. But what we can do as parents is to utilize the structure and the resources in our children’s lives in order to “make it worth their while” to harness their own natural man appetites and desires. The way we do this is through a series of “carrots and sticks” or rewards and consequences that make the costs of poor behavior high and the payoffs low, while making the payoff of good behavior high and the costs relatively low.

In my last book, Choosing Glory, is a chapter on “Better Parenting.” In that chapter, I give a few examples of costs and payoffs that parents can use with their children. No particular set of carrots and sticks, however, will work for every child, so prayer, consultation, brainstorming, as well as some trial and error, is often required.

In addressing your specific situations, remember that I have only a cursory understanding of the circumstances and the personalities involved. That said, here are a few thoughts:

1 – We need to be cautious about trying to enforce behaviors that God considers optional. While it is can be okay to insist that our children take piano lessons and even to insist that they practice, that insistence should only go so far. We can’t change our children’s hearts and make them enjoy music lessons or anything else. Incentives and consequences might include: no TV, calling friends, computer time, etc. until piano practice is completed; if she practices at least 2 (something reasonable) hours a week, she gets a privilege on Saturday; for every week that she practices at least 2 hrs without complaining, she earns a certain monetary credit toward something she wants. Things like that. Again, while the discipline of piano lessons and the skill itself can be a tremendous blessing in a child’s—and adult’s—life, it is optional in an eternal sense and thus, in my opinion, not worth an ongoing battle. I would have a serious talk with her, when the mood is positive, and explain why you would like her to have the benefits of that developed skill and find out what her real feelings are. Does she hate it? Does she like it but just needs reminders and incentives to practice sufficiently? Does she understand that your efforts to get her to practice are not coming from a desire to make her miserable but a desire to bless her life and give her an accomplishment and developed talent that she may be grateful for her whole life?

CHRIS ADDS: The issue with the piano may be a measurement of the relationship between mother and daughter.  If piano is that important, maybe another teacher would be an option.  If it is only the mother that wants piano for the daughter, maybe it should be put off for a while.  Every so often,  it doesn’t hurt for parents to reevaluate what is important, and for whom is it important.  At times, taking out the need for productivity in a relationship can allow for emotional growth and relational progress.

2 – As far as feeding the dog is concerned, the obvious consequence is placing the dog in another home. That’s pretty drastic but if she was the one who wanted the dog and promised to care for the dog, ultimately, that is the natural consequence. Before going to that extent, however, try not letting her have dinner (or breakfast, or after school snacks) before she takes care of the dog. The dog is a living creature that is dependent on his owners for sustenance. It’s not okay for her to take care of her own needs and ignore his.

3 – I would assume that your son made it to BYU (apologies—it’s been a busy summer for us, too, and I fell behind on Q&A). Here again, it would be important to consider whether you want his behavior to change for his sake or for yours. You mention that it affects your anxiety level. Sometimes we, as parents, can get a little too closely tied in to our kids’ behaviors, especially when those behaviors are not particularly high priority. Is it that when your son doesn’t do his part, you end up picking up all the pieces? Then what needs to happen is that you don’t pick up the pieces. If he doesn’t get ready, he’s not ready. (I hope you let him pack for BYU on his own and didn’t spend money to send him a bunch of things he forgot or to replace things that he had left at home.) And if you’re concerned that he packs at the last minute, leaving a huge mess in his room for you to deal with, make a plan for that, too. Either put it all in black garbage bags and let him deal with it when he gets home or pay someone to come in and clean it up and make that his next birthday or Christmas present. (That won’t work if you buy lots of other presents and he doesn’t notice the difference.)

CHRIS ADDS: With each developmental stage our children go through, there is an accompanying stage we go through as parents.  Just as children need to individuate in stages from parents, parents need to let go incrementally.  Along with becoming more independent, is the freedom to fail.  Without that potential, there is no growth.  There are consequences for every action and every inaction.  He’ll have to learn from what he does.  Parents can teach by precept and example, pointing out, in kind ways, what is going to happen when certain actions are followed, then the consequences follow.

When it comes to his mission, let him be responsible or let him leave later, when he’s ready to make it happen. At his age, there are things that he needs to take responsibility for or live with the consequences. That should be made clear and then it should be backed up with consistency. He should start to hear now that he will be responsible for getting his papers ready to submit for his mission. He should set up the doctor and dentist appointments, and the appointments with the bishop and stake president. If he chooses to go on a mission, he needs to be ready to take care of himself. You’re not going with him. But then you have to be able to let go. If his inactivity makes you anxious, you’re doing it wrong. And if you are the one who rescues him from his carelessness or laziness, he’s not really growing up. It’s important for us, as parents, to care more about letting our kids grow up meaningfully, than to just create and maintain the illusion that the child is becoming more responsible and mature by constantly rescuing.

4 – As for your daughter’s kids, those behaviors really should be stopped. While not practicing piano or procrastinating packing for school are terrestrial type imperfections, calling siblings names, like “stupid,” falls into a telestial realm and parents need to draw that boundary firmly. I agree that time outs are often rather ineffective. I don’t think they’re tied in closely enough to the behavior and I don’t think the cost is great enough. I used to tell my own children that, if they didn’t treat their brothers and sisters with respect, they were not allowed to play with friends. “It’s easy to be nice to friends,” I would say, “but until you are nice to your brothers and sisters, that’s not going to happen.” That was a sufficient cost/payoff structure to motivate them. If one of the kids is being unkind and the other is behaving well, then the offender could be banished to a boring room in the house (with no toys, books, electronics, or other entertainments) while the well-behaved sibling has access to the fun stuff. If both, or all, are offenders, then no TV, no computer, no iPods, etc., until they can be respectful. Another possibility is to give them cleaning jobs to do together until they get along respectfully. (“After you both finish scrubbing that toilet and tub, there are 3 others in the house you can scrub, if you’re still not getting along.”) Once in a while, if two of our kids were not getting along right, my husband would take a scarf and tie their wrists together until they were treating each other correctly. They didn’t like it and they stopped fighting or being rude. I hope that starts generating some ideas. I would consider it very important to stop that behavior.

I wish you well.