The Beauty of the Bribe (…Or How to Get Your Kids to Do What You Want)Moments in the Minivan, Parenting Tricks — By Rebekah on July 13, 2008 at 8:02 am
Yesterday was Jim’s birthday. He’d kill me if I told you how old, so let’s just say: he’s older than me. We decided to splurge and take the kids to The Cheesecake Factory for dinner before coming home to have homemade birthday cake (which almost-three-year-old Jack helped make….it was a 4 t-shirt day) and open presents.
Jack has always been a pleasure to take to restaurants; we don’t go very often, so when we do he is so curious and interested in what’s happening that he just sits back and observes. Usually this means he eats A LOT (at one of my former consumer goods co’s we called this “mindless nibbling”. . . the tendency to forget how much you’re eating when you are watching TV or a video). So, while it’s great for most of the time, getting Jack out of the restaurant can be a challenge because he would be happy to sit there for hours, observing the people – particularly the wait staff who deliver the food and bus the tables as they really move fast!
Yesterday, I found the solution.
At the end of our meal – or at least at the end of everyone else’s meal, with the check delivered and paid – I try to hurry Jack along.
- Me: Jack, are you about finished?
- Jack: I’m not done. (Another bite goes in.)
3 minutes later. (Felt like 10 minutes to me, because Luke, our 1 yr old, who’d been great the whole meal had reached his limit and was alternating between eye-rubbing and attempting a high-chair escape.)
- Me: Jack, you’ve eaten so much! Aren’t you finished?
- Jack: I’m still eating. (Another bite goes in.)
3 minutes later. (Again, it felt like 10 minutes, because I had just noticed the time and we were 15 minutes past bath time already, and we still had drive/cake/presents to do before the bathtub.)
- Me: Jack, don’t forget we have birthday cake to eat when we get home.
- Jack: DONE!
We were out of the restaurant in one minute, max.
This is not the first time I’ve learned this lesson of getting your kids to transition from one activity to another by presenting them a better alternative. (OK, you might call this a bribe-gasp!) This also works to get them to do what they might consider unpleasant activities. Whether it’s getting Jack to brush his teeth at bedtime (so we can read bedtime stories!), or getting him to leave the playground (we’ll have chicken nuggets for dinner!), life with toddlers – at least in my household – is a constant game of choosing the best “carrot”.
While I’ve read that certain parenting experts believe that bribing your kids scars them for life, I have to disagree. Bribing is actually quite common in adult life, I’ve found, when you need to get people to cooperate with your plans and objectives. In corporate, they call it the “what’s in it for me” method, but basically it’s a principle based on bribing: Figure out who your audience is (in this case, a toddler) and what they really care about (cake, bedtime stories), and use the promise of this reward to encourage cooperation. They just don’t call it that because bribing sounds manipulative, whereas targeting your audience appropriately is smart.
Human nature is human nature, whether you’re 3 or 30 years old. Or whether your bribe is a trip to the playground or a good performance review. I figure learning this young is actually a good thing for my boys, versus scarring them.
I just don’t want them to learn to quickly how to bribe their parents into doing what they want….though I’m suspicious my almost-3-year old is on the verge.