I would find it hard to believe that there are parents out there who haven’t resorted to bribing their children. It can be on a seemingly small scale and I can hear my own voice saying “let’s get this shopping finished and I’ll find you something nice to eat on the way home” or “if you want to go to that party tomorrow you need to go and put your pyjamas on now!”. Of course if pyjamas weren’t put on I doubt I would really cancel our attendance at a party, but actually it works and that’s why we do it.
I overheard a conversation a few days ago which made me think about how easily the bribery escalates. A mother was telling her friend that she had taken her son to McDonalds for lunch because she had promised him a treat if he went to the doctor. She said she knew it was the wrong thing to do but she’d done it anyway. I imagine that all the small bribes had led up to this moment and nothing short of a McDonalds lunch would have worked. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t going to the doctor something in life you just might have to do? (and possibly more often if you eat at McDonalds!). At what point does every little task in life require a treat to be fulfilled?
Starting off by bribing your children, even for the small sense of relief it brings when you’re just about ready to tear your hair out, teaches them that complying with you requires a reward. And not just a “well done” or a “thank you” but something tangible. A thing. An outing. A lunch at McDonalds. I wonder if this is where our need to reward ourselves comes from. That treat of a new handbag or gadget because we deserve it, we worked hard, we went to the dentist.
Whether or not the treat mentality stays with us into adulthood, one thing I know for sure is that the little boy who had lunch at McDonalds that day will most certainly expect at least that the next time he has to see the doctor. Telling your kids no can be hard and I for one am going to try not to fear it, even in the supermarket! In the long run life would surely be simpler if treats weren’t handed out to make difficult moments easier but were reserved for those occasions when they were unexpected and truly deserved.