Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham
I volunteered at our club’s meet this past weekend and overheard some frightening things from parents. One mom told a friend after her teen son swam, “I took away his X-box.”
Her friend replied, “But he has straight A’s. Why?”
“He has to swim good, too,” the mom answered.
Punishing our kids for adding time? What could possibly go wrong?
The other thing I heard repeatedly was talk of bribes. Parents talked about what their child was going to get if they made a certain cut or swam a certain time. We’re guilty of this ourselves, beginning with a trip to Dairy Queen for a meet without a DQ, and moving onward and upward from there.
Here are five thoughts about using punishment and bribes to motivate our children to do well:
We can’t motivate our kids to swim fast. It isn’t possible because motivation is intrinsic. Our children have to want to swim and put in hours of hard work. What we can do is encourage and support them. Punishment isn’t encouraging and bribes are not long-lasting.
Parents who are bribing and punishing their kids are putting too much emphasis on results and performance rather than the journey.
Every day at practice and meets our children will swim differently. They may not have a feel for the water one day, but it all comes together the next. Our days are not perfect and we shouldn’t expect our kids to be “on” all the time, either.
Punishing a child or withdrawing emotionally after a bad race teaches our children that we love them only when they perform well. This can cause performance anxiety and damage our relationship with them. We need to let them know we love them unconditionally—in spite of how fast or slow they swim.
Bribing our children with ice cream or money may work today, but what do we promise tomorrow? As they grow older, the bribes get more and more expensive. Maybe instead of rewarding our kids for times, we should reinforce their attendance, effort and hard work.
What are your thoughts about using the carrot or stick approach at swim meets?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.