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Break the Habit with Your Child: How to Choose Choices over Bribery

Break the Habit with Your Child: How to Choose Choices over Bribery


As a parent, I sometimes bribe my sweet, four-year-old daughter. Yes, the occasional “if you… then I’ll give you…” slips my lips. There are days when I’m beyond tired and stretched to my limits, but my daughter is still going full force. And yes, sometimes I’m so exhausted I can’t help but offer myself some solitude by saying “if you clean up your toys in the living room then I’ll let you watch Daniel Tiger.”

Even though these times are far and few between, I still cringe inside when it happens. And undoubtedly, I feel a sense of guilt.

As a parent who practices Chick Moorman’s book Parent Talk: How to Talk to Your Children in Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility, 98 percent of the time, any extent of bribery just feels wrong.

Have you ever heard the saying, “it takes seven days to make a habit, and three days to break it?” Well, when bribery is involved, it feels like it only takes one day!

I want my daughter and unborn child to feel empowered by their own decisions and accomplishments, not driven by what they can “bribe” out of me. Even as an adult, there is that great sense of pride and ownership I feel when I accomplish something that no one asked me to do, but that needed to be done. There’s that “BOO-YAA, I did THAT” type of dance-around-the-room-while-fist-pumping moment that I just get so giddy over and think I want my children to know this feeling.

Not to mention, bribes are bad. They stop us from being held accountable. I swear, every time we go to the store (you know, the one that gives free cookies to kids), I hear a parent say “if you’re good then we will get a cookie.” And not only that, but I later see the kid screaming and, of course, still leaving with a cookie!

Children are smart people. The next time that kid comes to the store, he knows that a cookie will be placed in his mouth if he:

  1. Throws a fit
  2. Screams
  3. And lastly, cries when he doesn’t get a cookie

And I’ll bet you, he will have this routine down and patented for every shopping trip.

Are you yelling “STOP THE BRIBERY NOW” as if you’re some PETA campaign? Well, you should be. If you’ve ever read Parent Talk or ANY parenting help-guide book or story, you know that changing the way you parent doesn’t happen overnight. Remember the rule? It takes SEVEN days to make a habit! So what can you do instead of bribe your child, that’s easy, and effective?

1. Be willing to try.

Yes, this is the first step. If you’re willing to try, and try, and try, then the following suggestions will be easily attainable.

2. Give your child choices.

I know, it sounds silly, but it’s a way to have your child feel proud and you get what you want. Say your kiddo wants to go to a friend’s house, and you want their room cleaned. Try: “You have a choice. You can clean your room and go to your friend’s house or you can choose to not clean your room and stay home. Your choice.” Don’t be shocked if your child chooses to stay home! This might happen. And that is fine. It was their choice. You’ll just have to try again (see step 3).

3. Break down big projects.

We know you’re a super parent and can clean the entire house in under an hour, so surely your child should be able to clean their room with a day’s amount of time. However, that’s unrealistic. Break down the project. Try: “I would appreciate it if you could pick up only your books today.” You’ve given your child an objective – pick up your books. The project is a lot smaller now. Like before, they might not do it. And that is fine. It is their choice.

4. Give another choice and an explanation.

Yes, yes, yes! Choices are the way to a child’s heart. Make the choices worth more, but respect your child’s choice. Don’t go too crazy or you’ll punish yourself. i.e. Try to stay away from the “if you choose to not clean your room, then you’ll lose your car privileges” EEK!  What if your student is in sports? Who’s doing the driving then, parent?

So instead try: “I noticed you didn’t want to clean your room. It’s important that we clean our rooms so we can get out of our room quickly in an emergency without getting hurt. I’ll give you a choice, you can choose to clean your room and keep all of your toys. If you choose to not clean your room, I will pick up everything that’s not in it’s place and you won’t be able to play with it. It’s your choice.”

And as always, don’t be surprised if they choose to not clean their room. We once used this with our then three-year-old and we ended up with a laundry basket full of toys stuffed in our closet for SIX MONTHS! YES- it took her SIX MONTHS until she finally decided to clean her room. And once she cleaned her room, we gave her the basket of toys back. Let’s just say, she has now learned that cleaning her room is the best option.

Not only are giving choices an important step in avoiding bribery but following through as a parent is so important and can often be the hardest part. Don’t give in! Practice self-discipline and your Parent Talk to turn it into a habit. You will have a much happier child and a much happier you in the long run.

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