Thursday, October 27, 2011

Toddler Bribery

I am a huge fan of toddler bribery, or as the parenting experts like to call it, "rewards" .  I readily use this tactic to coerce my two daughters to do most anything that they refuse.  And, even though I now have a growing cluster of concerned readers who think that I am a "bad" mother, I will admit to, and even endorse, this parenting tactic.

In the past week I have bribed my two girls to:
  1. Sleep in until 7 am.
  2. Go to swim lessons without complaint.
  3. Finish their dinner.
  4. Eat their veggies.
  5. Try a new food.
  6. Brush their hair. 
  7. Brush their teeth. 
  8. Not throw an exorcism every time I announce that we need to leave for school.
  9. Poop in the potty.
Before you begin to judge me and assume that I am spoiling my children with lavish sweets and toys, many of the carrots I dangle in front of their sweet blue eyes are small, negligible in many eyes.  Let's look at this list again, along with the bait that was offered.

Sleep until 7 am.

Two weeks ago, Elana became stuck in a pattern of waking somewhere between 6:05 and 6:07 am. Since my eyes will not open before 7 o’clock, I suggested that if Elana could stay in her room until the reasonable hour for the next two mornings, she could have the tiny porcelain fairy doll she had been eyeing at the local gift store. 

Go to swim lessons without complaint.

Even though Elana loves to swim, and usually eagerly awaits swim lessons, there are days that she tries to wriggle out of going.  With a simple promise of a trip to the ice cream store adjacent to the swimming pool after class, Elana abandons all protests and skips off to her room to find the perfect pink swimsuit to match her pink goggles.

Finish their dinner.

While I do not champion the clean plate club, I do want to teach my children to stay at the dinner table until they are done eating.  Maisy is a grazer and would prefer to eat a bite of chicken, run and play with her stuffed cat for ten minutes, then come back for seconds.   When the jitters overtake my toddlers, I entice them by reading books while they dine.  The stories stop if they stand up from the table.
(And, yes, I know that there are more appropriate ways to do accomplish this, like actually eating with the children, but for now, this doesn’t work with our schedules.)

Eat their veggies.
This one is rather logical, no dessert unless you eat your vegetables.  Maisy doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, so she will often forego the Oreo cookie.

Try a new food.

Elana is a full-fledged member of the Picky Eater Club and prefers her food bland and beige.  Attempts at encouraging her to try new foods often backfire, but if I offer her a few coins she usually relents.  Last week I suggested that I would give her one quarter if she tried asparagus; being the she keen negotiator she is Elana opted instead for five pennies.

Brush their hair.

Occasionally I offer the girls two chocolate chips if they will sit down and allow me to untangle their fine toddler hair.  Maisy isn’t impressed by proposal, and hence I have chopped most of her hair off in a do that can only be described as “Mission Hipster”.

Brush their teeth.
Obviously, I am not about to offer them chocolate chips after they brush their teeth, I’m not a monster, but if this task isn’t accomplished in a timely manner, I take away one of their three bedtime stories.

Not throw an exorcism every time I announce that we need to leave for school.
Elana would prefer to spend every minute, of every day, within an arm’s reach of me.  This week, her clinginess began every morning at 8:15.  Frustrated, I made this deal, if she can manage one week without these terrible drop-off tantrums, the two of us would go on a special mommy-daughter outing.
 Poop in the potty.

Although Maisy has been pee-pee potty trained for the past three months, she still refuses to poop anywhere near a bathroom.  Whenever the urge arises, Maisy asks for a pull-up and some alone time with her play kitchen.  So far, I have yet to stumble upon the right bribe to entice her to use the potty.  I may need to pull out the big guns, but I’m not sure how my husband will feel about a new puppy.

Luckily for me, experts do not consider this an inapproprate tactic, they just use fancier language like "positive incentives".  According to, there are proper and improper ways to bribe a toddler. 
  1. Reward for good behavior, not bad.   Basically, just rephrase everything in a positive statement.  Instead of promising an ice cream cone for not hitting a sibling, promise them the treat for keeping their hands to themselves.
  2. Young toddlers need instant gratification.  Payments later for services rendered now do not fly with the two-year-old crowd. 
  3. Bribe children before the misbehavior starts.  Yesterday I packed up both girls for a little Trader Joe's action.  Before we even left the house, I promised them a small treat if they behaved while shopping.  This worked wonders with the four year old, but Maisy (2.5 years old) threw her first fit as soon as we stepped inside the door and found that there weren't any "Customer-in-training" mini shopping carts left (see #2).

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