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Parenting Resolution: To Bribe More Creatively

As far as my kids are concerned, I single-handedly represent the lollipop guild and I’m okay with that.

Bribery is, perhaps, the most effective weapon in my parenting arsenal.

Just like KJ Dell’Antonia who writes the column ‘Motherlode’ of the NY Times, I am an unabashed briber of my children. I cannot fathom parenting without it.

If you are good in the grocery store you can have a lollipop.

Eat all your dinner and you can have some ice cream.

Mommy has to run some errands and then we can get some chicken nuggets.

Yes. I bribe! Even though there are enough books stating the downside of bribery to fill a library, I don’t care. For me, the anti-bribery movement is just another too loud voice added to the jumble of parenting advice constantly being shouted at overwhelmed moms and dads who are just trying to do the best they can even though we’re constantly being told we’re doing it wrong by in-laws, psychologists, researchers and fellow parents who should know that it ain’t easy so back off with the fingerpointing judgment already, mmmkay?

Nonetheless, here is the most recent thinking on bribery. As the NY Times reports, Daniel Pink, in his best-selling book “Drive,” summarizes forty years of research and concludes that bribery is “unreliable, ineffective and causes considerable long-term damage. Long-term damage? Sounds serious. Is it serious?

The main downside is that our children will perform theses task just to get the reward and when the reward is removed they stop doing it. This is what we get after forty years of research on bribery? They won’t do the thing you want them to do without a reward?

No kidding. THAT’S WHY I’M BRIBING THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE. THEY WON’T DO THE THING WITHOUT A REWARD.

Here is more stellar advice from Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center. Instead of bribing your child make it a “game.” NY Times offers the example of getting your kid to eat all his veggies.

First, take the pressure off by telling them they don’t have to eat vegetables now but just keep them on their plate. “You tell them they’re probably going to want to eat vegetables when they’re older, because there’s a nice little challenge in there,” he said. Then you offer a point to whomever can put the least amount of vegetables on their fork. The next day you have a competition for who can touch the fork to their tongue and you escalate from there. “The research is very clear,” he said. “Choice is related to getting compliance in any behavior, but psychologists distinguish between real choice and the illusion of choice. Real choice doesn’t make a difference; it’s the feeling of choice.”

Offer a “point?” Clearly this Kazdin fellow doesn’t have children. If he did he’d know that they are manipulative, evil little people who will tell you, without pause, that they hate you because you won’t turn on their favorite cartoon and that offering them an intangible “point” for eating some green beans will result in swift parental failure.

What I’m saying is I bribe and no amount of “research” on the terrible “downside” of bribery will convince me otherwise. I’m sticking with it. Of course, there is an art to parental bribery. You can’t do it too often because it won’t work. Oh, and your kid will turn into a big jerk, but more importantly, it won’t work.

It’s all about your kid’s age. And timing is everything. Telling a 4-year-old she can have a lollipop at the check-out if she’s good at the grocery store will work but to a 2-year-old, you might as well offer the reward when they’re 18. The 2-year-old gets the reward while shopping, see? “Henry, you are being such a good boy right now you can have your lollipop.” Kind of like you’re rewarding them for good behavior but really you’re pre-empting the tantrum. In fact, I’ll argue that when you offer a reward before your kid has a tantrum it’s actually positive reinforcement and not bribery.  Bribery comes in when your kid is already being a jerk and you offer them a treat to get them to behave. Which is a tactic I have also employed depending on how desperate I am. And seriously? How does anyone potty train without bribes?

So before you think those of us bribing our children are bad parents take note that we are refining and honing our bribery technique. It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s a skill.  But look, you don’t need me to tell you this. Because you do it all the time too and you shouldn’t feel bad about it either. Our kids are going to be just fine.

Photo Credit: madaboutscience.com

You can also find Monica on her personal blog, The Girl Who.

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