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A Little Bribery Goes a Long Way

With our first three children, rewards and incentives for good behavior were never necessary. They knew listening to Mom and Dad was not optional. Our youngest, however, responds to her own brand of motivation: bribery.

Laurie and I never really bribed our first three kids. We figured they needed to behave, follow directions, and not act like fools because we said so — not because we’d take them out for burgers or let them stay up past their bedtimes if they did. Kids don’t need bribery for doing what they oughta be doing in the first place. Right?

For the most part, this strategy worked. But our fourth kiddo, Jasmine, has redefined parenting in every way. As long as we can remember, she’s met every situation that displeased her with equal parts frustration and defiance. On days when she’s really driving us up a wall, we look back on family pictures and memories and find some solace that she’s always been like this: her first Valentine’s Day fussing over her outfit; her second Christmas sobbing over sitting on Santa’s lap; her first day of kindergarten refusing to eat her breakfast sausage because she only got one.

“Why aren’t you eating your breakfast?” I asked.

She folded her arms and gave me a sad look. “I wanted two sausages.” Her voice was barely audible.

“So you’re not eating your favorite sausage because I won’t give you two?” Then Laurie and I shared a chuckle at her feeble attempt to pull one over on us.

She’s seven now, and just as stubborn and headstrong. Couple that hard-headedness with her hyperactivity, and her composure can go from cool to hot in just a few words. And being the unbending parents we are, we’ve had our fair share of stand-offs. After a few years, we figured there had to be a better way. Logic. Threats. Deflection. We tried them all and, while we had a few one-off victories, nothing seemed to work with this girl consistently.

[Slideshow: 10 Rewards To Inspire Your Child’s Best Behavior]

She started second grade this past year, and within weeks she was already coming home with teachers’ notes for talking in class. She received them from several different teachers, and several times a week. Her homeroom teacher called me after sending home one of the notes, and suggested that she postpone a reward Jasmine was owed.

“She earned a junky snack for a good grade she got on a math test, and I know it means a lot to her,” her teacher explained to me. “I just haven’t had time to pass it out, and I should have given it days ago. But I’ll bet if we tell her she needs to go a week without getting a note for talking, then it will work.”

Laurie and I were pretty overwhelmed by the constant talking, so we were ready to try anything. So I said sure, and called Jasmine in and explained what we were going to try. To my surprise, she wasn’t disappointed about having to wait. She was just happy she might get the junky treat. “Oh boy!” she said. “I’m gonna get Skittles!”

Each day she came home from school and couldn’t wait to tell us she had been good. Then at the end of the week, she got out of school grinning ear to ear. “Daddy!” she shouted. “Look! I got a bag of Skittles!” She grabbed my hand and poured me a big handful. “Here you go. I know they’re your favorite.” Then she shouted at her friends, “Jack! Angie! Look! I got a treat ‘cause I didn’t get in trouble all week,” and she ran over to them and passed out handfuls of her hard-earned reward.

This is the way she always acts when she gets treats. She genuinely loves getting rewards, loves sharing them, and doesn’t seem to care how big or small they are. I suppose this is why bribing works on her – it’s incredibly fun buying her stuff. She’s come home from shopping with mom shouting, “Daddy! Look at this pink pen mom got me.”

“It’s a ballpoint pen,” I say.

“Yeah! And it’s pink!”

Laurie and I have since tried to be strategic when we use this as an incentive for acting right, but it’s hard when she’s so excited. It’s hard not to smile at a loud, happy girl, shouting for the world to hear how happy she is that she behaved.

[Free Download: Your Free Guide to Better Behavior Through Therapy]