On bribery

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 Β£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!

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17 thoughts on “On bribery

  1. I had some good advice recently on this, which might make you feel better. Bribery is when you give the child something first, saying “if I give you this, will you do that”, which costs you all control of the situation. Reward is when you say “if you do this, I’ll give you that”. Whilethe child retains through choice of how to behave, they’re aware of the positive outcome, and you can not give the reward if it’s not earned. Sounds to me like you got it spot on, no bribery here, even if it cost you a fortune.

  2. Although it’s cost you a fortune, it’s also helped your boy to learn – go you! (It doesn’t help that a lot of the translations of books into Welsh are dreadful – they’re not translated into child Welsh, they’re translated as literary tomes … not helpful – changes the tone completely – can you tell this is something of a soapbox of mine?)

    I tried a similar thing with my boychild last summer (summer between year 4 & 5), not with reading, which (fortunately) he loves anyway, but with practicing handwriting – which was abysmal.
    He decided that he’d rather not do it – even for the incentive. So he didn’t get the incentive, but he’d made the decision.
    (My dad managed afterwards to get him to practice his handwriting by buying him a load of stamps and asking him to write a postcard a week to him (my dad) – no incentive offered, except that boychild had a phonecall from his grandad when a postcard had been received, and it was positive reinforcement!
    SqueakyMom is right – if the incentive is offered but not taken, that’s not bribery.

    1. I’m feeling better about this by the minute (if only my bank account felt the same way!) The postcards idea is a good one, I’ll squirrel it away with thanks to your Dad in case I need it for any of the kids at some point.
      You’re right that it’s been harder to get him to read Welsh because of a lack of stuff that he is interested in – Henri Helynt seems to have hit the spot for him, and he also enjoyed Fantastic Mr Fox yn Gymraeg. My Welsh is nowhere near good enough to know if they have been translated in an appropriate voice but he seems to get on ok with them. There isn’t a lot else that I’ve discovered that sparks his interest so any suggestions welcomed! Thank you for reading, and commenting πŸ™‚

  3. This is so interesting! I was talking about bribery just this morning and it features a bit too heavily in my parenting at the moment (stubborn 2 year old!). And oh how many times have I fallen from that horse! It’s amazing how much you think you know about being a parent before you have one.

    I think reading is such a gift that you have given something very special to your son. You may have set him up for a life long relationship with books and that is worth more than the price of any skylander figure.

    1. Thank you, I am glad to know I am not alone in my horse-falling. I hope you’re right that he’ll come to see reading as something to love, it opens up so much. And 2 year olds – I feel your pain…!

  4. Stop stressing over what other parent will think, you have one happy little boy who has done a super amount of reading over the holiday (at a cost of money) i think you did a fab job x

  5. I’m glad he’s enjoying reading. Rewards have not always worked with me. Maybe I just got the incentive wrong. I have found if I rethink the route then the target is hit. Couldn’t get my son to swim. He was happy to play. Stopped his lessons and booked him into a one-to-one crash course with another teacher and he was swimming by the end of the week. One of mine wouldn’t read, while her older sister had devoured books from an early age. Then she turned 7 and there is no stopping her now. I guess we all hit milestones at different times.

    Found you through #PoCoLo

    1. I like the idea of rethinking the route. Though this has (I think) worked there have been plenty of times when I have not managed to get where I wanted. Good advice, I’ll remember it. Thank you.

  6. What a wonderful and entertaining post. Your high horse had me laughing out loud. πŸ™‚ I love the fact that he is slowly, despite himself getting into reading. Some kids just need a little push/bribe/reward.

    1. Thank you! I’ve fallen off it far too often and no doubt have a few more tumbles to come…but on balance I think you’re right, he just needed a gentle shove in the right direction!

  7. This is a very sweet post – way to early for me to even have to think about it but taking notes for the future!!! At the moment Peanut is obsessed with books – the pictures πŸ˜‰ All I can say is – there is no right or wrong and we all make it up as we go along!

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