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Do kids behave better when they know Santa is coming?

Most parents have uttered something like "You should behave because Santa is watching," to cajole their children into complying with parental requests that the kids often disregard, except during Christmas season.When my parents attempted this pl...

Mike Rosmann
Mike Rosmann

Most parents have uttered something like "You should behave because Santa is watching," to cajole their children into complying with parental requests that the kids often disregard, except during Christmas season.

When my parents attempted this ploy, my brothers and I already knew what was up. We usually disregarded the threat unless something we really wanted for Christmas that we had not already discovered was hanging in the balance.

So my brothers and I played along and acted innocent. We usually had already found the intended presents from Santa in the garage attic or hidden in our parents' empty suitcases.

Marilyn's and my parents have passed. We now face their dilemma, not with our adult children, but with four grandkids, ages 5 down to 1.5 yrs., who apparently collaborated and found Santa's 2016 Christmas presents while staying at our house over Thanksgiving.

Of course they didn't say anything about their discoveries, but Marilyn and I learned of their mischief because a couple items had been opened and taped shut again; others were found elsewhere than on the top shelves of our master closet. I don't know if I should say "Darn those rascals!" or congratulate the little whippersnappers!

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I advised the grandchildren when they arrived at our house for Thanksgiving that Santa might not visit them if they misbehaved during their week-long stay. Totally worthless!

When I asked them to help me move firewood from a farm shed into the garage to burn in our fireplace and wood-burning cook-stove, they were pleasantly helpful as we stacked almost a cord of split wood in the garage attached to our house.

Taking turns, they helped me steer the tractor with its front-end loader and smiled proudly for photos. I was fooled into thinking my grandchildren always behaved like angels until...well, you already know what happened.

Do children cooperate better with requests when expecting rewards than when the outcome of cooperation is not known? The answer is yes, but with qualifications.

Psychological research has established that adherence to requests usually occurs when the expected rewards yield greater satisfaction than noncompliant behaviors might yield. Sometimes the mayhem created by noncompliance is a greater reward itself than obedience.

I have to admit it was fun to observe my grade-school teacher - a nun - sputter with indignation when a bunch of ornery classmates, myself included, feigned that we couldn't hear the homework assignments our hoarse teacher with laryngitis requested just as the bell sounded to end the school-day. It wasn't as much fun the next day when some of us didn't turn in completed assignments.

The principle of "assigning weights to anticipated rewards" is well known by parents and others in disciplinary roles. Compliance usually occurs when it achieves the greater reward.

So yes, it's okay to indicate that Santa is watching how the youngsters under your charge behave, but Santa has to be sure to provide the expected rewards at Christmas or the intended effect will fall flat next year.

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Sometimes it's just plain fun for the little ones to help. During Thanksgiving, a 3-year-old granddaughter placed all the gumdrops and other candies on the gingerbread house Grandma had baked but not frosted ... and she made sure everyone knew she decorated the edible edifice.

Later that evening, she lay next to her dad on the living room carpet, who was tired from many hours of pheasant hunting and helping with the food preparation. He tapped her on her tummy to see if she was awake.

"Stop," the little tyke demanded. "I'm not a drum." And when the observant adults sitting around the room laughed, she added, "It's not funny."

Yuletide season gives everyone a chance to reform if we need to, though I suspect this Advent won't affect some, like our politicians, in the ways we want them to behave.

Next year looks to be better for farmers, because our current farm recession seems to be "bottoming out."

I'm less sure, however, that the mega-corporations that have done little to reduce their prices for seed and other cropping inputs will pay attention to what Santa wants, that is, price reductions for the items struggling farmers need.

But as I said earlier, we remember when those in control don't treat us fairly, and we ignore them thereafter. I feel better having said that, now back to my family.

Christmas at our house will be entertaining this year, I can guarantee. Whether Marilyn and I will survive the holiday is less certain.

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I have a nice red and white outfit that Marilyn sewed a few years ago, along with high black boots. This Santa really does know what goes on most of the time with the grandkids. Thanks to Mrs. Claus, good presents await delivery to good children.

May you who read these columns have a joyful holiday season and positive expectations for next year.

Mike Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer. To contact Rosmann go online to: www.agbehavioralhealth.com .

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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