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Feel Weird About Bribing Your Children? Get Over it—it Works

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Bribery is such an ugly word. The very thought of it conjures up images of unsavory politicians, suitcases filled with cash, and smoke-filled rooms. Not all bribes, though, are created equal. Some help your children learn how the grown-up world works. In return, you’ll get some peace and quiet.

In my home, bribery is a learning tool, an exchange of services that benefits both parties. We’ve developed a Star Chart system whenever one of our children fixates on a new toy he simplymusthaverightnoworelse. When that happens we break out a clean piece of paper and let our creative juices flow. Here’s how it works:

Creating the Star Chart
First, my son must draw the item in question on the paper. Any chance to coax my sons to draw or paint—and avoid the tractor beam pull of TV time—is golden.

Then I’ll create a numerical countdown, typically from 20-to-1, 30-to-1 or 40-to-1 (depending on the cost of the “bribe”). Our child will then have to earn that number of stars before we’ll buy the (reasonably priced) toy in question.

Point-Earning System
If my oldest eats his hamburger without storing half of it in his cheek he earns a star. If my youngest goes to bed without requiring a lecture on why sleep is needed for our survival—something that happens as often as the Cubs not making the playoffs, he gets a star.

It’s all about good behavior and becoming a better young person.

We then place star-shaped stickers on the chart until every number is covered. And we always pair the stars with positive verbal reinforcement. Every star is an accomplishment. After all, when the Star Chart is full, it’s back to life—and parenting—as usual.

The System Works
At first I worried that the Star Chart system would backfire. What if our sons only do the right thing when a sticker is at stake? Turns out the chart didn’t have a hangover effect with our children, but your mileage may vary. Tweak the system as your kid’s behavior dictates.

Remember, the prize in question doesn’t have to be a toy. Many parents are strapped for cash on the best of days and can’t afford the latest Thomas the Tank engine set. Most children already have all the toys they need, and one more goodie will just add to the clutter.

In those cases, make the goal something that only costs time. Perhaps your daughter can’t wait to visit that out-of-the-way park with the super-duper tall slide. Or, your son wants to see his out-of-town grandma again even if she isn’t scheduled to visit until next month.

It’s bribery, but it’s built on positive conditioning, and it can be a valuable tool for frazzled
parents.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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