When I taught school, I occasionally had a student who thought I didn’t like him or her. Sometimes this conclusion was more or less correct, but what was always true in these cases was that I found myself smiling at those students significantly less than with other students. I needed to deliberately smile at these students, and I found they responded to the different nonverbal communication.
We’re talking about motivating children in our ladies Bible study. We’re looking at what motivates a Christian to obey her heavenly Father. It gives us insight into learning what motivates our children. Of course, what motivates a high school student often will not motivate a preschooler. And, what motivates a preschooler may not motivate a baby.
For example, I might suggest that we get an ice cream after we clean up the living room and eat lunch. My preschoolers understand this and will work hard for the treat. If Laurel understands the word ice cream, she will not understand that ice cream is conditional upon cleaning up. She thinks it means she’s getting ice cream right this minute and will cry if she doesn’t get it. That’s because babies don’t easily understand time language (and preschoolers don’t always either, for that matter.)
So, what motivates Laurel? I’m finding how important that smile is. When I ask her to come to me, a smile makes a big difference in her motivation (as do the hugs, kisses, and happy language when she does obey). What I’ve realized is how often I ask her to come with a frown. Especially since she’s just learning that she must come when mommy calls her (and she doesn’t always obey), I want her to understand that obeying mommy is a happy occasion. I’ve watched a smile communicate this goal and make a difference in her motivation to obey. [a caveat: at a young age, sometimes children can interpret a smile as an invitation to play a game. I think this is why I got in the habit of frowning. What I think works for Laurel is to give the command with a straight face, but then smile when she’s processing the information.]
So, is it biblical to show our children the joy of obedience as a means of motivating them? Absolutely. Jesus did, and often. Here is my favorite example.
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.