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I bribed my child and I'm proud of it

Lego - as seen in its natural habitat

I don’t like using bribes for behaviour. As a teacher, I’ve avoided sticker charts and points systems and instead rely on developing intrinsic motivation in my students. As parent, I sometimes tell the teacher in me to shut the hell up. Sometimes, as much as I don’t want to, a bribe makes my day go smoother.

My son (the President) is four. He struggles with loud noises. We’ve known for while – we have a growing list of incidents and anxious moments stemming from his noise fears. Last week, his kindy was visited by a fire truck. He loves fire trucks, but his worrying about the noise prevented him from fully participating.

One of the things I’ve looked forward to the most about owning a big block of land is having a ride on mower. And what I’ve looked forward to most about having a ride on mower, is having the President ride on the mower too. The President hates the mower. He starts worrying the moment I say I might mow the lawn on the weekend. Any suggestion of riding on the mower is been met with a blanket, ‘No, thanks!’ At least he’s polite.

So, I started a little campaign to get the President on the ride-on. We worked and played in the shed with the mower in there. We sat on the mover without it running. We got noise cancelling headphones from friends and we tested them to see how loud the mower was with them on. We got mum on the mower and watched her having fun riding around. All of this was very successful, but he still wouldn’t get on the dam thing while the engine was running.

Feeling frustrated, I resorted to a bribe. I had bought a Lego police boat while it was on special and had it hidden the wardrobe for Christmas. Together with my wife we came up with an elaborate plan:

I showed him the boat, which of course he loved. I told him I was going to hide it somewhere in the back yard and that I would take photos that would be clues he’d need to follow in order find it (I know, cool, right?). Buuuuuuuut! The backyard is not the backyard anymore, it’s another planet and it’s covered in lava (he loves lava). The only way to follow the clues and rescue the Lego is to use the spaceship in the shed (the mower).

It took all his bravery and cost a few tears, but we finally got on the mower, journeyed across the lava covered planet and rescued the Lego. We all cheered. He had a great time. Talked about going on the mower again. Told us that it wasn’t really that loud after all. Victory.

I have no idea if what I did was text book parenting, luck, or permanently damaging. Did I achieve something valuable or set a poor precedent for future situations? I don’t know. I do know, that today the President overcame his fear in order to get something he wanted. O.K. I got what I wanted too. But, maybe tomorrow he’ll do it again just because he can. I sometimes think that parenting is like taking a test in which you have to wait twenty years to find out the result. I not sure if today I got a question right, or if I cheated on the test and I’ll get found out later.

I’m not sure it matters. Today was awesome.

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