I’ve been thinking through a recent motivation challenge with our three year old.
David has been given a number of really cool t-shirts. Sometimes when we’re putting away laundry, he sees a shirt he would rather wear than the shirt he chose for that morning. I’ve never allowed him to change, telling him instead he can wear that outfit the next day.
However, he has discovered that if his shirt gets dirty, he gets it changed. And he knows how to get the shirt dirty enough to change. He either plays in water (allowed) enough to soak his entire shirt, or he is “careless” when he goes potty and gets on his shirt. Both of these situations nearly automatically guarantee he gets to wear the shirt of his [new] choice.
Lately, he’s been accomplishing this by not even going to the potty (he has some pants that he likes, too). What should I do?
My first thought was some sort of discipline or negative consequence for the action. But regardless of what I do, he still gets to change the shirt. I’m pretty confident that reward cancels out anything punitive in this situation. I could not let him wear the shirt he wants to wear, but again, he gets the shirt changed, so even if it’s not the shark shirt, it might be the airplane shirt. He still gets rewarded, even if he wears a boring navy blue shirt. I suppose I could foil his reward by making him wear pajamas until I can wash his original shirt and pants.
The motivation solution was eluding me.
The best solution I’ve thought of so far (and it came in a flash after pondering all of these unsatisfactory responses), is to remove the necessity of the reward. I can be quite flexible, so why does it matter if David wants to remove one clean shirt to put on another? As long as the first clean shirt is put neatly away, does it really matter if he changes? I don’t think so. So if he knows that he can ask me, and I’ll allow him to change, then the motivation to soil his shirt or pants is eliminated. I think this is what I’ll do, unless there are any better ideas around…