When Bribery Isn’t Bribery
If you have been around here for any length of time you might have caught on that I have two kids close in age. The oldest is 3.5 and the younger, 2. Like most first time moms with the first I wanted to do everything correctly. I spent countless hours fretting over little details and psychoanalyzing all my parenting decisions. And like most parents, I find myself a bit more relaxed with the second.
One of the things I have always struggled with doing with the first is giving him prizes, presents, toys, etc. in return for his good behavior. For example, when potty training, I didn’t use things like chocolates, stickers or prizes for success. We used praise but no prizes. I was concerned that he would simply spend the rest of his life wanting chocolate every time he entered the bathroom. And honestly, it felt like bribery to me. And to me my job as a parent is not to get my kids to perform.
So fast forward to several weeks ago when i was pulling my hair out at my 3.5 year old’s crazy behavior. I came to you and to my FB community to ask for help. I took that advice, his personality and the current set of circumstances into consideration as I drew up a new plan to tackle our situation.
I decided I was in desperate need of focusing on his POSITIVE behavior instead of focusing on his negative behavior. So I devised a behavior chart. It wasn’t anything fancy and won’t win any DIY awards but it was one I felt would be effective for him. I included items on the chart that I knew were weakness areas (not throwing a fit for breakfast, lunch, dinner, teeth brushing and naps) and some other things that I knew that he was capable of achieving on a regular basis (sharing, helping out mommy and daddy, doing his reading lesson, picking up his room). And then I added a few others for good measure.
Over the course of the day he gets a sticker if he does any of the items successfully. I try to remind him if he is headed down the wrong road but only really needed to do that the first day. When he got 5 stickers for the day he was able to get a BIG Spiderman sticker and pick a prize from the prize bin (think dollar store toys/trinkets). My plans were that if he got 5 big stickers in a week that he would get a bigger prize; however, he is a little young to understand all that so I have waited.
I was amazed at the results this piece of paper on the wall yielded. And I slowly came to terms with the fact that my child is strongly motivated by prizes. He likes a good challenge, true; but he really likes to receive surprise gifts. Which got me thinking more about love languages. (Yes, I talk about love languages a lot, they intrigue me). One of the love languages is “gifts”.
I’m not a gifts person but if your love language is gifts you tend to feel most loved, appreciated and nurtured when you receive gifts. Now, these don’t have to be diamonds, or fancy toys, or a new gaming system. They can be small tokens or items that cost nothing at all; homemade gifts, food, repurposed items, etc. In this case it was dollar store toys specifically picked out with his tastes in mind.
And so I experimented (yes, I experiment with my kids, don’t you?). I started keeping some small items wrapped in lunch bags with Spiderman stickers around for times that I thought we might experience some colossal meltdowns. And guess what? It worked! Our meltdowns are few and far between. And even better than all that, in general, he is more happy, content and seemingly fulfilled. He absolutely gushes when he receives a prize, any prize. He is so excited that you got him something that the actual object doesn’t bring the joy, it is the act of receiving it. THIS is the difference between loving and bribery! This is what I couldn’t understand a year ago when we were potty training but understand fully now.
It is a hard balance to strike, this loving through gifts without moving into bribery territory but I absolutely think it is worth it. It has made a HUGE different in our day-to-day lives and has really impacted how I approach him. And before you go asking me if I am giving him presents every day, the answer is no! He doesn’t need them. In fact, we only use the behavior chart once a week now just to keep it on the radar screen. He is loved and fulfilled and is excited to do the things on the chart without gifts as much as he is to do them for the gifts. It is the craziest thing.
Do any of you have kids that you think might have the love language of “gifts”? Have you viewed it as bribery as well?