Are You a Carrot or a Stick?

A few days ago I got into a discussion with a good friend of mine regarding how we/ I discipline our children. The conversation stemmed from my asking for advice after my little man had a rough few days at school and I realized about halfway through, that we just came from two very different point of views on this issue. My good friend was of the mindset that kids are supposed to act in a certain way, and when they don't it is your job as a parent to reinforce the rules. Her position was that the taking away of privileges and a basic "this is not allowed attitude" is all that is needed to essentially keep the little ones in line (that and a way to tune out all of the crying that will inevitably follow.)  While I agree in theory, I am finding that the practical implementation of this is concept, in my home, is a completely different story.

My question is when it comes to parenting/disciplining your child, do you have to either be a carrot or a stick, or is it possible to be both?

Admittedly, I am very much a carrot. I try to be tough with my Little Man, and for the most part I consider myself to be pretty consistent when it come to the taking away of privileges. The problem for us is two fold,

1) I am a bit of a softy, and
2) my Little Man doesn't respond well to negative reinforcement.

The softy part is very much my issue. I often find myself saying, "they're just kids, " or "he's only three," and I am pretty much in the mindset that as long as he isn't bothering anyone else, and/or hurting himself than he should have the ability to be a kid. This is why I rarely take him to restaurants, and if I do it is for pizza, or some other loud and kid friendly environment. I am often envious of my friends who are able to take their children out with them to a nice dinner without any issue, but I know my kid, and sitting still (and quiet) will never be his strong suit. I sometimes feel that living in a city there are so many more "rules" for safety's sake that I am a little more relaxed when it comes to things like playing with sticks, and rocks, and I really will let my boy attempt to climb anything. When we are together my Little Man pretty much follows my rules, the problem lies in when we are apart... hence the rough days at school, which leads me to number two.

My Little Man just doesn't respond well to negative reinforcement. I'm not sure if it is the way I raised him, because he is an active boy, or if it's just his personality, but I have found that the more resistance my guy feels the more he will dig his heels in. Like his mother (ahem and father) he is one stubborn little guy and no matter how "tough" I am on him, he will continue to push any any every boundary, just to see what will happen. The end result was never good, and somewhere along the way I found that my little guy just responds better to a reward based system. Things like, "if you are good at the gym, then we can go an pick out a lollipop," or "if you sit still while we are at mommy's doctor, then we can watch an extra George," all the way to, "if you don't get out of bed before your light comes on for the next 10 days, then you can get a new toy car." It doesn't matter for him the length of time or really the prize itself, it's just the having something to work for that seems to motivate him.

This rewarding feeds into one of my biggest concerns, as a parent, which is that I don't want to raise a spoiled child. I don't want to find myself in a situation where I am rewarding behavior that is expected. Things like going to bed, sleeping through the night, eating right, brushing teeth, etc, these things I have no problem enforcing. My issue is with the grey areas. Should a three year old be expected to completely follow the rules at a school, 5 afternoons a week? Should they be expected to follow all the rules, all the time? I often wonder if the expectations, set by either the parent or society, of how a child should act in this day in age are sometimes too high? If this is the case than at the end of the day, shouldn't there be a small treat or reward that comes with meeting those expectations. Or am I just a wuss (remember this is coming from someone who admits that they are a softy?)

I have to think that we as adults also respond better if there is a reward to work towards, be it a vacation, a raise, praise from a spouse or boss. I feel like being a toddler must be like being in a work environment where EVERY time you mess up, your boss comes in an either yells at you or takes away your phone/ computer (insert item you can''t live without here.) You would be miserable for sure, and who could blame you if you had a temper tantrum at the end of every day (either that or a serious ulcer.)  Is this a case of as my friend says, rewarding what is expected, thereby allowing for bad behavior, or it it just acknowledging that sometimes the carrot works better than the stick?

I would love to hear from you all, have you found a way to balance negative and positive reinforcements, or is it true that you really have to be in one camp or the other?

PS any insight on how to get my kid to stop acting up when he is at school would also be greatly appreciated... seriously I'll pay you ;)