Before I had kids, I had all these marvellously clear cut ideas about how I would approach being a mother. One of them was that I would never resort to bribery – no indeed – my kids would all be dealt with in a reasonable and firm but fair manner, and if they understood the boundaries between right and wrong then bribery would never come into it, would it? Simples.
I didn’t do too badly to start with – in fact I can safely say I did not issue any kind of bribe at all for the first few weeks, or perhaps even months. And then reality kicked in, and I realised like most parents that sometimes, it’s about buying yourself five minutes peace to save your sanity and if that takes a small, er, incentive, (organic, wholesome and sugar free, natch) well so be it. And incentives are good, right? Not like bribes at all, in any way, shape or form. Phew.
So, yeah, Bribery, sorry incentivisation, does feature in our lives to some extent, though not any more or less than any other family I don’t think *stares defensively out from page*. But so far, mostly for the little things, and I’ve told myself that as long as I don’t end up with bribery being a daily feature of our lives it’ll all be fine.
CRASH crash clippity clop…that was the sound of me falling off my high horse and it galloping off into the sunset, leaving me flailing in a quagmire of incentivisation induced shame. Yep, this summer has seen a major bribery programme take place in our house, which has left me skint, and more familiar with Skylander figures than I ever thought possible.
The reason? Reading. Though my daughter chooses to read anything she can get her hands on, my biggest boy has been more ambivalent about reading, and particularly reading in Welsh. It’s clear to me that the ability to read and process language fluently is a crucial cornerstone in giving kids the best chance to make the most of their education in whichever language; and it seems like there is a distinct window of opportunity to make this happen, before lack of language skills begin to affect a child’s enjoyment of learning. And I do want my kids to enjoy learning, because if they don’t enjoy it, they won’t do it, and if they don’t do it now, that will affect their choices later in life. God, I sound like a pushy parent, and I’m not at all – I don’t care about where my kids come in class or whether they are talented in this that or the other – I just want to do the best I can by them, to equip them for the big wide world.
Hence the bribery. At the beginning of the holidays, I sat down with my biggest boy and had a chat about how important reading is, and then I told him that because it was such an important thing for an eight year old to read lots that I’d help to make it fun by (whisper it) buying him a Skylander figure for every Welsh book that he finished over the Summer holidays. I told him that he didn’t have to read anything if he didn’t want to, after all it’s his summer holiday, but also slyly pointed out that it currently takes him 5 weeks to save up for a Skylander on his £2 a week pocket money, so even reading just two books in that time would double his haul.
This has caused some debate in our house – the Husband is quite rightly wary of this being the thin end of the wedge, and I am a bit nervous about that too, though I did package it up very tightly as a time limited one time only deal. Also we have had to be reasonably discreet with my daughter, who reads all the time because she wants to, because I don’t want her to feel that her efforts are any less worthy of reward than those of her sibling. I’ve told her that the summer she is eight we will do a similar project just for her, in whatever she needs to practise for year 4, and I have no doubt she will hold me to it!
So – the results are in – I’m writing this towards the end of August and he has so far read nine books, all Henri Helynt/Horrid Henry sort of length, and discussed them with me afterwards. I am hopeful that at the very least this will have kept his Welsh front of mind through the summer break; I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that he will have given himself a really solid language base for the next year, and that this Summer’s investment will pay dividends in his confidence and fluency. What I am most pleased about is that although he started out picking up a book with the words ‘I’m going to read a chapter so I can work towards another Skylander’, I have noticed that recently he seems to be opening a book because he wants to read it, with the Skylander being a secondary factor.
Like everything else with this parenting lark though, I am flailing in the dark. I don’t know if this was a sensible strategy, or if it will prove to have made not much difference, or if indeed it is completely the wrong way to approach things. If you’ve any experience of this, or thoughts, please feel free to share them below or on @michelledavis – diolch/thank you!