Reward or bribe

"If you want a popsicle, you have to finish your dinner first".

"If you want to watch TV, you need to brush your teeth first".
I find myself repeating these sentences almost every day in order to get my 3 year old to do as I tell her. If you've ever had a toddler or taken care of one, you know her/his answer to every request or command is "no", especially if it requires a chore getting done. I never saw anything wrong with this since I'm teaching my daughter that if you meet your responsibilities, you can receive a reward. (Most of the time, anyway). 
As you may remember from last weeks post Toddlers and sleep, Amelia has been having major issues with staying asleep in the middle of the night. The day the post was published, she woke up three times in the middle of the night. During lunch on Monday, I asked my innocent looking girl why she woke up in the middle of the night.  For some reason I wasn't expecting an answer.
"Oh yes, to scream Mama, Daddy!"
She knew exactly what I was talking about, that little sneaky kid. So we explained to her that she needed to go back to sleep on her own when she woke up in the middle of the night, just like her father and I do. 
"But you can rock me a bit" she replied.
I told her that she needed to sleep through the night until the sun came out, that we weren't going to come get her before that. I felt kind of bad saying that (mother's guilt) so then I added, "If you sleep through the night tonight, you'll get a treat tomorrow. If you wake up Mami and Daddy, no treat."
Of course she slept through the night every night from then on and is now the proud owner of 2 little princesses.
"Don't stop giving them to her. Do it for the first week and then space it out," was my mother's advice. She raised two wonderful children and was an elementary school teacher, so I was ready to follow her plan.  But by the third day of sleeping through the night,  I stopped giving her treats. 
Amelia's baby sitter, who tends to give her opinion freely in these matters (but that's another subject), told me that she felt like we were buying Amelia's good behavior with the toys. I told her I disagreed with her and that I was rewarding good behavior and that I would stop when I saw fit. (I was a lot nicer because I hate confrontation and really love my nanny.) But her comment struck a chord, it stung! 
Thankfully Amelia slept through the night every single day without asking for her treat. Our verbal praise seemed to be enough reward for her. Now, was I rewarding her good behavior or bribing her?  When do we stop rewarding them for doing what they are supposed to do?  How do we make sure they don't expect a material reward for every good action? 
This was my mother's answer: "Of course you are buying the child's good behavior, you are buying yourself a good night of sleep!" I love that woman. Now what do you think? Ay Mama!


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  • Ah, the art of negotiation. Sometimes I feel like I have mastered this useful technique and other times I know I am using negotiation and bribery a little too much to get through the day.

    What I am finding with my almost 3 and 5 year-olds is that the jig is up. The "rewards" are not as effective anymore. And, they want their treat for good choices to be larger! (darn smart kids!)
    So, I have stopped the daily rewards and have move on to the elusive "sticker chart". For example: if my son earns 20 stickers in a week by making good choices and listening, his reward is going to the movies with his father. My son LOVES this new rule and is doing a great job so far. His 3 year old sister, not so much.

    Great post!

  • In reply to erago:

    Hi Elizabeth, I think she's too young for the sticker board but I will be using that at some point. Thanks for the comment and for reading Ay Mama

  • In reply to erago:

    I think it's a thin line between bribe and reward. I don't know what the distinction really SHOULD be but my personal definition is based on how it makes you feel. If you feel compelled to give her a treat for her good behavior, its a reward, if you feel pressured or manipulated into giving things for good behavior its more of a bribe and probably counterproductive. Life is about learning that our choices have consequences, when you do the right thing good things happen. (Ok not always but in general if you work hard and are good to others you will reap the benefit) So what's the harm in teaching our kids that. Yes it'd be great to teach our kids to be good and selfless just because they know its the right thing to do, but its simply not reality. We're human and human nature is to want what we want first and foremost.
    I've learned to just shrug of the comments with us, 'eh it's what works for us." When people want to try and question how we do things.

  • In reply to lisanoel03:

    Ladies I'm loving your comments. Lisa, I really like the idea of going with my gut. It's worked every time. And yes, I have to learn to shrug off the comments. Thanks for the input and for reading Ay Mama!

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