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Friday, April 30, 2010

Conservation of Resources Theory

There is a theoretical framework arising from research in sociology that I find very appealing. It's called the Conservation of Resources Theory.

This theory holds that everyone seeks to conserve the quantity and quality of their resources and to limit any circumstance that might endanger the quantity or quality of these resources. Stress is experienced when there is (1) a threat of resource loss, (2) a failure to obtain more resources or (3) actual resource loss.

COR theory also states that people who lack resources are more vulnerable to further resource loss. For example, if you don't save money when you are young and able to work, then when you are old and sick, you will have no money (lacking in money resources) to buy healthcare and thus you might die (lose your life) earlier than you need to. The poor get poorer.

COR theory next states that people must invest resources to gain resources in order to protect themselves against further resource loss. This means that if you have enough resources to invest (e.g., your family earns enough for the wife to invest time in your kids... or you have old folks [a resource] who can be invested in the children... or you have enough money to buy an investment property) then you can gain more resources (e.g., successful and emotionally healthy children... or more money). The rich get richer.

The trick then, to a comfortable and stress free retirement (with enough to live on, and children who love you), is to invest your resources wisely. For this reason, I own no branded goods... wear $2.90 slippers... and spend time with the kids. It makes sense to keep one's resources just in case one needs protection against resource loss.

But all that is beside the point. The only real reason that I find COR Theory appealing is the wisdom it has imparted to me when it comes to moulding behavior. You see, COR Theory also states that people are more sensitive to resource loss than to resource gain. To get my students to format their work properly, I DEDUCT marks for essay organisation, instead of GIVE marks for essay organisation. The 2nd essay invariably comes back nicely organised with headings, sub-headings and numbering. Man... this theory works!

Today, I discovered that this principle works even better than I thought.

Little Boy was scolded by his Form Teacher yesterday. She is a lovely lady - soft-spoken, gentle and always ALWAYS ready to find redeeming qualities in her students. I am not kidding. She is an exceptional Teacher and should always be referred to with a capital T for Teacher.

Little Boy came home yesterday visibly upset. He stayed up late just to complete an assignment that another teacher had said was due on Monday, but that his Form Teacher had made clear was due TODAY. Little Boy said "Ms S praises me so much that when she scolds, it is very much more scary than Mrs Someone Else."

It strikes me that children are more afraid to lose an adult's approval than to experience his/her disapproval. Parents who never praise their children (with sincerity), will not develop strong control over them. Parents who often praise their children only need to frown to have their children pull back in line. Little Boy and The Daughter aren't often scolded. Once in a while they experience Mommy's hissy fit, but that is once in a long while. More often than not, I need only purse my lips and walk away or look upset... and they are sorry.

You see, children fear the loss of a precious emotional resource (parental approval) more than they fear increase in parental disapproval. If that makes sense? So, if you want your kids to listen when you whisper, then give them plenty of approval in normal times. Give them something they fear to lose.

It's a cool theory this COR one.

6 comments:

Open Kitchen Concept said...

Wise words, as usual.. I'd remember this one. CoR

Blur Ting said...

Yes, you are right. It's the best way to bring up kids.

lemongrass said...

Oh.. I remember this theory..it's fun to know that we can make real and practical the learned theory from school.

Jude said...

Hi Pet, this is a good wake-up call for those of us who are parents. Thanks :)

Biscotta said...

Sounds practical, but I have a question: does being generous with approval lead to the development of personalities who are always seeking approvals since that is what they are used to? Just wondering...

Petunia Lee said...

Biscotta - This has been asked of me before. It's like saying that if you give your children enough food then they will grow up needing food. Approval is not a reward to work for. It is a necessity for a child's spirit to grow and thrive.

I give my kids enough approval. I give my kids enough food. If my kids don't have enough of MY approval, they'll search for a source from elsewhere. These other sources may not have my children's well being at heart. They may use their power to manipulate my children into wrong action.

If my kids don't get enough food from me, they will hunger from the food from others. TheseThese other sources may not have my children's well being at heart. They may use their power to manipulate my children into wrong action.

My kids hunger for my approval. I love them and I do not use that power damagingly. When The Daughter turned 18, I weened her off my approval. I told her that I disapprove of some things because I am me. Thankfully, these things are minor. She and I share many many values. Slowly, she began to understand that she needs to do things she thinks are right, not what I think are right.

Weening her from MY approval is easy. If I had not given her MY approval at the start and she developed a dependency on the approval of utter strangers because I starved her of a necessary emotional food.... then how to wean her off them?