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The Unintended Consequences of Sticker Charts

The essence of the Banyan

I will attempt to capture the essence and insight of this story.  Tonight at voice lessons, my almost 5 year old son sits down on the piano bench and pulls out his sticker chart.  To the teacher’s astonishment, all the square blocks have been filled in with hand- drawn smiley faces.  Unbeknownst to me, this is Henry’s clever handiwork.  As he knows, when the chart is full, he will earn a prize.

Sitting in the kitchen, listening to this exchange, I wonder what the real purpose of sticker charts is.   What lesson had the teacher hoped to teach?

Stickers are earned for “singing nicely” and “sitting properly.”  I have to ask, “At whose discretion?”  All in all, my children love their lessons and I appreciate their teacher’s talent and dedication.  And contrary to popular parenting, I do not require my children to practice.  I create a prepared environment that makes music and piano a genuine interest and a viable creative outlet.  Some weeks they practice; some weeks they don’t.  Then again, I guess that depends on whose definition of “practice.”

Consider Anna, my middle child.  In Anna’s reality, she practices all the time – for she sings and dances and pretend plays on the piano every day.  Yet, she seldom earns a sticker for having “practiced” during the week.  No sticker is necessary; she sings for the joy of music.

So, while I found this sticker incident to be superficially hilarious, I also consider it a bell of mindfulness.

What are the unintended consequences of the best intended parenting and teaching tools, if used for manipulation and control?

In this scenario, the sticker was intended to encourage “singing nicely and sitting properly.”  The unintended consequence rewarded lying and cheating.  Which leads to the painful question: “What role do parents and educators play in the character flaws of our children?”

The real lesson in all of this story is for me (and you, if you choose).  To increase my awareness by observing how my embedded beliefs and unconscious behaviors impact my children.  My intention is to move from control to support ~ let them dance their own jig, sing their own song, and have their own voice.

Children are the future, and if the future is to look differently than today, children must be allowed to follow their own passions and speak their own voices.

My contemplation today:

Am I giving my children a voice at all?  Or, are they only allowed a voice if it sounds like and looks like the predetermined acceptable one?”

“What are the ways I control and manipulate my children?”

“Where is unnecessary control embedded in our daily lives?  At home, school, work, church?”

“What are the unintended consequences of control?”

  • unworthiness, fear, lack of self-discipline and responsibility – the underlying cause of most character flaws

“How can I support my children instead of control them?”

  • unconditional acceptance & unconditional love – served with conditions, it is neither acceptance nor love
  • mindfulness – to be connected in the moment to my source of understanding, compassion, respect, and choice

God grant me the strength to trust my own voice, that I may support my children to sing their voice.  For when I do not practice my own voice, I cannot expect them to practice theirs.  No stickers needed.  Just the joy of love and life, and learning.

Peace & Love (always & without conditions),
Michelle
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