When you’re a parent, you’ve either been there already or you’re considering doing it soon – the moment when you first give your child a taste of chocolate, or ice cream, or some other delicious treat that you VOW they will only get very occasionally – and only if they have been really good. And they, of course, love the taste – because who doesn’t!
Chocolate and ice cream as a treat starts off as a great idea. They get to have some birthday cake, or a bunny at Easter, maybe some ice cream and jelly for Christmas… It’s amazing how fast that “occasional treat” becomes a tool for bribing your child. I know, the word bribe is terrible, and it conjures up images of drug dealers handing over wads of cash to the local Sheriff, or politicians taking $5000 bottles of wine from big corporations … and there’s no doubt about it, bribing is never a good thing!
…….. or is it?
There are numerous studies, hundreds of experts, thousands of mothers and fathers from around the world who say bribing kids is bad. I say, it depends on each parent, and each child.
And it’s not just about bribing with food … I know many parents who bribe their kids by promising they can use the iPad or iPhone for a while. Which many people would say is just as bad as using food for persuasion.
So when IS it okay to bribe your kids and how should you do it?
As Babies – 2 years old
I’m not the first to say it, but I’ll say it anyway – bribing a baby is never a good idea. Firstly, they won’t know it’s a bribe anyway; and I am quite content with agreeing that children under 12 months don’t really need to be introduced to sweets or the idea that if they do the right thing, they get a reward. My daughter was 2 before she had any “junk” food; but that was also a result of milk protein allergy so ice cream and chocolate was off the menu anyway. My son, born second, was about 10 months old before he tasted anything sweeter than breastmilk – and it was only ever occasional, until he realised his sister was eating when he wasn’t – and then it was more just about eating in general (he loves his food, no matter what it is).
The thing is, there’s no point in using bribery with babies and infants because they just don’t notice any difference. They are still learning their place in society, and telling them they will get a treat if they stop their tantrum isn’t going to make any difference – so don’t waste your chocolate!
As Toddlers – Threenagers (3yr olds)
This is where it gets trickier. From the age of 2 upwards, they are becoming more aware of the world around them, and they are starting to test you. Some would say introducing “bribes” to kids at this age is a terrible thing because this is where they really begin to learn how society works, some say it’s fine because there are still many years ahead of them to change their behaviours!
The thing I found is, when it comes to keeping sane as a parent so that you can function for a day or two, particularly when you’re really tired, a bribe can be the best thing. It can be the perfect way to get your toddler to listen to it, even if it’s not something that is recommended by the experts. There have been numerous times where I was at a park with friends and it was time to go home … rather than face a tantrum and have to drag my screaming daughter into the car kicking and yelling, all I had to do was offer a lollypop and my daughter was the first to jump in the car and say “let’s do it”.
Kindergarten – primary school
My daughter turns 4 this week and the old “have a lollypop” no longer works for her and rather than giving her treats every time we go to the shop, we’re teaching her lessons. These days, we have a STAR system in place. If she behaves, eats all her veges, etc; she gets a star. When she has 15 stars, she gets a “prize” – which could be anything from a new DVD to a Kinder Surprise egg. If she misbehaves, she loses a star – so it takes her longer to get something new. She is pretty receptive to this system because she loves getting presents. We also have another bribe in place – if she wants to have dessert (chocolate or ice cream), she has to a. Eat all her dinner – or at least part of everything on her plate because I don’t believe in forcing a child to eat everything on their plate, and b. Eat some fruit. Then if she has done both of those, she can have dessert. They might still be bribes, but they are bribes that get fruit and vegetables into her – and they work.
This is where it ends… never, ever bribe a teenager. Although I don’t have teenagers so I can’t speak from experience as a parent – I can speak from experience as a former teen … never bribe a teenager. Just tell them what they need to do, when to do it, and if they don’t do it – they get grounded. By that age, you’re most likely able to tune out of any tantrums anyway, you don’t care what people think about your kid when you’re out in public because they are old enough to make a fool of themselves without it impacting on you … so save your chocolates, your cash and let them learn about the real world. Unfortunately as adults, we don’t get the joy of being bribed to do the right thing – we just have to wing it and hope for the best. Let your teen learn the hard way, and the fast way. And just be there to guide them – not to bribe them. One exception could be to offer them a great holiday if they get good grades or once they get into university – cause you’re going to want a holiday too after 18 years of mayhem, so it’s a bribe worth trying. (And if they fail, go on a holiday on your own and send them a postcard!).