Watch out for Santa Claus: Instilling Morals Without Rewards

Watch out for Santa ClausDid you know?! Santa Claus is coming to town!

My favorite time of year is upon us. It’s Christmas, and you know what that means, right? Twinkle lights and tiny tots throwing tantrums. Frothy mugs of Abuelita hot chocolate and frantic mommies all around. Three Wisemen and ten million things on the to-do and the to-buy list. 

 

Christmas Makes Me Crazy

Every year I find myself pushing back against the craziness that is Christmas. Most of all, I find myself pushing back against the cultural norms that are being ingrained in my kids. 

“You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town”

As does any mom, I hate pouting and crying and overall selfishness. But I don’t like the idea of threatening my kids into good behavior because they think that a reward is in their future.  

“He’s making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town”

I love the idea of paying close attention to my kids. But, if they are behaving only because they think they are going to get a reward, then I have missed it. You — the little human for whom I want good and success both now and in the future — you behave because that is the expectation. You do not behave in order to get a present.

“He sees you when you’re sleepin’
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake”

 

Motivation in the Mayhem

No, no, no! Don’t “be good for goodness sake.”

I count it a privilege and a (terrifyingly) high calling to teach my children wrong from right. I want them to see the principles behind the rules and parameters that we set. I want to develop within them character and integrity — not compliance for the sake of instant gratification and constant rewards. I want to speak to the motivation behind their actions. And I don’t want that motivation to be a present.

I am the parent who loves them and wants fun for today and success for tomorrow. I am not keeping a list of their rights and wrongs. I am not out to get them. I am out for their good.  I am, hopefully and prayerfully, teaching and modeling right and wrong so that they learn to make their own choices in their own lives.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Santa Claus will be coming to our house. There will be presents, and plenty of them, under our tree this year. As parents, we love to give good gifts to our kids. But these gifts (and our love for them) are not a result of their obedience or disobedience. Our kids’ “goodness” isn’t going to change our love or our affection for them. We love them no matter what.

How do you feel about using Santa as incentive for good behavior?

 

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