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I Bribe My Kids and You Know You Do Too

Don't parents "bribe" their kids all the time? "This system of good-behavior-equals-reward starts at a very young age.
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With 10 weeks of summer vacation stretching ahead of us, I decided to take control before the whining and fighting and choruses of "I'm bored" began. I enthusiastically told my sons, ages 8 and 4, that this summer would be "The Summer of the Halstead Brothers!" I explained that I want them to have fun together, be kind to each other, help each other and remember what's important to us as a family. I created a Halstead Brothers poster of reminders about appropriate behaviors and our wishes and expectations for them, with the H standing for Honesty, the A for Attitude, the L for Listening etc. My husband and I called a family meeting during which we discussed the poster, which has become known as the Halstead Brothers Creed. Then we went to the local dollar store where the boys each selected a plastic jar and colorful glass stones to match. This is where the bribe comes in.

We explained that all summer long we will "catch" them doing well, following the creed, and when we do we will put stones in their jars (we pointed out, much to their dismay, that we reserve the right to remove stones as well). They were thrilled to learn that after they earn an agreed upon number of stones, they can trade them for something special, such as Pokemon cards. (I should mention that initially we considered using dimes or quarters to help the boys learn about the value of a dollar along the way, but ultimately decided that that would place too much emphasis on money, which isn't the point of the exercise.)

When I first approached my husband with this idea, he responded, "Why do we have to bribe our kids to get them to behave?" While I understood his concern, I had a slightly different perspective. Don't parents "bribe" their kids all the time? "If you eat your vegetables, you can have ice cream for dessert." "If you do your homework without complaining, you can play Wii." This system of good-behavior-equals-reward starts at a very young age: "If you pee on the potty, you can have a piece of candy!" Let's face it; we bribe our kids constantly, whether or not there are glass stones or Pokemon cards involved. Is there anything inherently wrong with a little incentive? When you think about it, we adults are motivated by incentives. We may work more diligently because a promotion is on the line or because we desire the respect of our boss or co-workers. And aren't we in fact rewarded for our "good behavior" at work with a paycheck? In the end, my husband figured glass stones probably wouldn't scar our kids too badly, so we gave it a try.

We're a few weeks in, and so far it's working quite well. The boys remind each other to look at the poster, which hangs in our kitchen. Trevor, age 4, is especially happy to point out our 8-year-old's slip-ups: "B. is for Bucket Filling, Trey, and that was not bucket filling!" The creed serves to remind us all about our family values. In addition, Trey and Trevor feel a sense of pride whenever they earn a stone. Does Trevor ask "Do I get a stone for that?" a little too often? Sure. But it beats "I'm bored" which, surprisingly, I haven't heard yet, thanks to R, Ready for Adventure!