I was in a shopping mall the other day and I overheard a father telling his child, “I have bought you 2 presents, so now you have got to be good”. I found myself wondering what message was the child receiving? Did the child interpret it as, ‘you don’t have to be good unless you get a present?’ or ‘you will only get a present if you are good?’

Good behaviour should not be directly linked to a present or a gift. As parents we must teach our children how to behave correctly because it is the right thing and not to do it to receive a reward. We need to be teaching correct morals, not conditioning behaviour.

A couple of years ago I read the findings of a research conducted regarding the question, ‘why we should not steal’. In the fifties the answer given by children was, ‘because it is wrong’. In the eighties the children answered, ‘because you might get caught’. I often wonder what the answer would be today?

Bad behaviour must be linked with consequences and we should not shield them from those consequences. Similarly good behaviour should be linked to the outcome it will have upon us, such as harmony, peace, feeling secure and safe. It should also be linked to the impact it will have upon our family, our community and the environment. At no time do I believe that good behaviour should be linked to the concept of ‘now you should get something’. This makes behaviour performance based, whereas it should be based on good morals.

I don’t think we should use gifts and presents as a ‘bribe’ to create good behaviour. We give gifts and presents as an appreciation of who people are not because they behaved in the way we want them to. We give presents because we love them. Our Father in heaven gives us good gifts because He loves us not because we have performed correctly.

As parents, we should make a clear distinction between receiving a present and behaving correctly. A clear connection should also be made between love and receiving a gift. All behaviour has consequences but we love despite the behaviour of the person.