When Incentives Aren't Bribery: Hell, Do You Really Care as Long as They Do It?

I'm going to admit it. I bribe my kids. Not consistently. But, I do. And I do it intentionally. And shamelessly. And with all the psychological tools concerning positive and negative reinforcement at my disposal. It can be tricky as hell figuring out what my kids' "currency" is, but you better watch out when I do, because heaven and earth move once I do. 

Several years ago we wanted to get the bright boy competent in the water. He did not wish to embrace this concept of competency. He did not want to learn how to swim. He really didn't want to jump in the water. Well, the boy's a fish now, all thanks to an endless frakking supply of Pokemon cards. That's right. I got him to swim by using pokemon cards and some serious mama-insisting that he could and would do it or he wouldn't get the card and he wouldn't get a long list of other things, too. In other words, I doubled up on it and used both positive and negative reinforcements to get him to master the skills I felt were important.

I do it with my girlies, too. Practice is key with our children, but practice isn't always going to work to get them to actually perform, and my girls have never been the kind of children to do things because grownups are asking. So big? Yeah, they were over the age of  four before it dawned on them that so big and patty-cake were fun and made mama and grandma happy. Saying sorry? Pitched battles time after time to get that concept in their heads and make them able to apologize where needed. Greetings and goodbyes still require some rehearsing.

So, both my girls are stubborn. Forget that. They are past stubborn, past mulish and flat out stonish. They ain't going nowhere. Unless you find the carrot. And I've got them this year. 

Lily gets bored with schoolwork and quits. She could, on one level, not care less about her grades (when it's time to do the work) and yet will bawl if she doesn't get As (when she sees her grade, and really when I see it).  Rosie will be interesting to watch this year, her first to get grades. 

I went shopping today and I came home with spongebob, hello kitty, coloring books, rubber figure bracelets, and a plan for this year. 

Lily's having issues with regulating her emotions and controlling her attitude on top of a half-assed attitude towards actually answering questions. Each meltdown, dirty look, hissy fit, attitude, and bad grade gets her a hash mark on the downside. Every A gets her a hash mark on the plus side, as will doing her chores, being helpful, and in general handling her reactions well. Every two weeks, if her plus hash marks are greater than her issue marks, she earns something. Same goes for Rosie. I've got two months of things, plus things for exceptionally good days, so that I mix in a fixed ratio schedule with an intermittent one. Plus, they get to look at these things before they go out the door each day for school and when they come in every afternoon.

The hash marks are cumulative, worth a quarter a piece, and if Lil has enough at the end of the school year to buy a nintendo ds, she'll have earned herself one. Rosie's holding out for barbie dolls. In other words, as long as Hello Kitty and Sponge Bob obsessions last for the next month or two, I'm covered and should be able to help them stay motivated towards doing well. The trick is in externally motivating them, to not do so for every desired action, and to work to maintain internal motivation, as there's pretty good research showing that the use of external motivators on already intrinsically motivated behaviors destroys the intrinsic motivation.

So, bribe your kids, but only for the crap they really don't want to do, don't do it every time, be willing to take their crap away from them, and hunker down for the long haul. It's a crap shoot, but at least psychology lets you load the dice.


Anonymous said...

Here's my view. Bribery is offering something in order to get someone to do something illegal or unethical. Offering your kids something they want in order to get them to go something legal and or beneficial isn't bribery, it's incentive, and we should use it every chance we get!

Great post!

Autism Mom Rising said...

Rock on Momma. Whatever you gotta do.

kathleen said...

I think every parent does this-no matter who their kids are. The trick-is in (you so eloquently put it) finding the balance..:) AND more importantly sticking to it.