Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I occurred to me today after taking my son to the doctor to have the wax cleaned (forcibly) out of his ears, that bribery is a skill that requires particular finesse. As I apologized to the doctor for what I was about to do and whispered in my freaked out son's ear that I would buy him a toy if he let the doctor work, I wondered what the long term consequences of my actions would be.

On one level, I didn't care. I just wanted to end the torture, for everyone. We'd already been there an hour and progress wasn't forth coming. To be fair, my son was actually doing very well until he got tired of the discomfort and the doctor, despite her skill, "nicked" his ear canal. On another level, it worked. Pretty much instantly. It gave everyone something fun to talk about and gave my son something new to focus on. On the final level though, I couldn't help feeling like a parental failure.

However, as I feel this way most of every single day, I rallied and am putting my guilt to work by spreading the Good Word about effective bribery techniques.

In order to properly parent, you must learn some of the basic skills required to master any task (and gain immediate, complete cooperation from your child). Bribery is an entry-level skill for all parents to learn and I think there are a few important things to note about effective bribery:

1. Primarily, when you bribe, you have to make sure you are not setting the stage for future demands. Only offer the bribe in circumstances that you know are unique. (How often does one get their ears cleaned out? Once a year, tops.) Conversely, offering bribes for completing daily actions will only make you poor.

2. In the best case scenario, you have to offer the bribe at a time that makes it appear that you are in control. (For example, if you know you are going to get a shot at the pediatrician, you should start talking the bribe up BEFORE you get to the doctor.) There is no point in offering a bribe once the child is so worked up he/she can't calm down. Also, if you are going to invest in a bribe, in whatever form, you want to get the most bang for your buck. Talk it up!

3, Make sure you can provide the payoff immediately or you will go crazy answering the question of "when" the aforementioned treat will appear.

4. Make sure you are clear that this is a "one time" offer and it will be rescinded if full cooperation is not achieved. Be reasonable, though, don't expect a child not to cry during a shot, just perhaps, not struggle and scream.

5. Finally, don't be ashamed. I don't know a single parent who hasn't bribed in a crisis to get a task completed. If someone says otherwise, they are lying!


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