On Friday, Motherlode blogger KJ Dell'Antonia offered two enthusiastic thumbs-up to the time-honored practice of either bribing or threatening one's kids in order to make them behave. As a parenting tool, the ol' carrot/stick method has fallen out of vogue, which is a shame, writes Dell'Antonia, because, when you're trying to get your kid to perform some distasteful, middling task, it often works like a charm.
To be clear, kids are generally recalcitrant little jerks who don't understand that, for instance, they need to eat in order to live, or that it is of the utmost importance that they do not make it rain with all the neatly stacked bank deposit slips while you're trying desperately to give the teller your paycheck. How do you tell an irrational frenzy of pre-pubescent humanity it is definitely not cool for it to stick the lollipop you gave it as a reward on the bichon frise standing in line behind you at the post office? (Also, why is there a bichon frise at your post office? Do you live in Belgium?) The answer, of course, is that you can't reason with a diminutive daemon of destruction and mischief — all you can do is allude to future lollipops if it manages to not weaponize the lollipop it is currently enjoying.
After offering a (brief) survey of the parenting literature against bribing, Dell'Antonia explains that bribes or threats of punishment aren't really means of turning your child into a shallow grade-grubber motivated solely by the prospect of material recompense. Nor are they ways to "push" children around. They're just tools in the arsenal of a tyrant who may find him or herself overwhelmed and outnumbered by the villagers:
But I am a big person, and although "push around" isn't how I'd put it, I am in control when it's necessary. That's my job. I'm the parent. Ultimately, I can "make" you clean your room, or get in the bike seat, or sit quietly through the appointment with the bank when circumstances require that you attend (or at least I can punish you for your failure to do so). Sometimes, family life, like so much else, requires that you do that which you would prefer not to do, or would prefer not to do right now.
My "bribes" return some measure of that control to the child. Of course, basic manners and respect should mean that my children accede to those timely requests for a clean room or best behavior, and teaching that is my job, too. A bribe isn't always the way to go. But when it is, it offers a child an appealing route into what's usually an unappealing job.
Of course, feel free to raise your kids however (so long as you're not a monster or anything), but parents who insist on wading into a Socratic dialogue with their child every time it stubbornly refuses to get in the car and go to the doctor's office (for vaccinations that will save it from catching scarlet fever! the idiot!) either have a red wagon load of patience or are dickish college professors who can't, for a single goddamn moment, abandon the rhetorical fanciness and act like a real human.
In Defense of Child Bribery [NY Times]
Image via Zoroyan/Shutterstock.