I feel the need to share (read: admit) something about our parenting tactics. I wouldn’t consider this a confession as there’s no guilt on my part, and it certainly isn’t a soapbox speech proselytizing to the parenting masses because I feel our way is THE way. I’ve simply come to a realization that something I hadn’t expected to be a large part of our parenting repertoire has indeed become an oft used page in our playbook. So here it goes.

We Elders as parents offer our toddler bribes. Rewards? Incentives? Reinforcements? Call them whatever you want, spin it however you like, it’s all the same game and it’s a winner. I suppose the proper term depends on the situation. Bribes or incentives come before an action or behavior, rewards and reinforcements come after, and honestly, we do it all. The parenting “experts” will have you believe that bribing is evil and rewarding is good, and I believe that there are certain instances where the dividing line is bold, but that’s most definitely not always the case and grey area abounds. Like every parenting topic out there a quick Google search of the matter revelas a bazillion articles, blog posts and forum threads elaborating on the many schools of thought, but there’s some consistency in the fact that the opposition to bribery mostly occurs in the form of an article written by some sort of doctor that may or may not actually have children of their own, while the proponents tend to be real life parents blogging about their real life experiences. Okay, okay, the article writing doctors probably have some “research” and “case studies” to support their claims but neither of those things matter a poo when you’re in the parenting trenches, exhausted, dirty, hungry and losing your freakin’ mind. And also, on a side note, how exactly does one earn the title of “parenting expert”? What amazing feat do you have to accomplish to be dubbed an absolute authority on one of the most impossibly broad topics in the universe? Sure, your ideas about how certain aspects of child rearing should go down likely apply to and work for a lot of mommies and daddies, but certainly not all of them because every child is different in so many ways, so it seems absolutely unreasonable to think that any one person could be an expert in all things related to the fine (read: absurdly insane) art of parenting. Side note over, point being: I’m a firm believer that in situations like this, where what’s in question is not related to the health or safety of your child because in those cases you probably should listen to the experts, you’ve got to do what’s best for you. If it works for you, you feel okay about it, and any child rearing partner in your life is on the same page, go with it. And so it is with us and bribery.

For example: Most toddlers are picky eaters and this can be frustrating, even infuriating. Norah actually does eat well a good percentage of the time and though her inexperienced palette may involuntarily expel certain things that she was at least willing to try she enjoys all sorts of healthy foods. That said, there are always (quite frequently) those days when her little toddler emotions overtake her rationality and she seems disinterested in anything comestible. “I just don’t want anything at all” she half sobs into her hand (number one sign of fake crying: hand to the mouth). At times it’s easy enough to just say fine and wait until she comes around, but when you’ve got a schedule to attend to and you need to be sure that some sort of nutrition is consumed by a deadline, there are ways to encourage her to eat. Such as letting her watch YouTube videos. This works like a charm 99% of the time. Now, what we have to be cautious about, and in this case the experts and I concur, is that we don’t run this play so often that it becomes engrained in her mind as permanently associated with eating. If we’re busting out the laptop for some Mother Goose Club sing-alongs every other time she eats we’ll quickly find ourselves fighting to get her to eat anything ever without that extra incentive. I feel that we’re pretty selective about its usage and have thus far succeeded in making it work for us.

Example two: Norah has been peeing in the potty for at least six months, but she has thrown all out tantrums at the thought of going number two in a toilet. I have no explanation for why the otherwise quotidian porcelain throne became an object of torturous terror when it came to the act of pooing, but it was serious business and really hard to watch at times. The poor girl would pace around uncomfortably, crying about her bum hurting, begging to go to sleep (sleepy time = diaper = poo in peace) and no amount of comforting talk or encouragement could get her to sit on the potty and do the only thing that would make her feel better. We offered everything short of a pony to try and get her to poo in the loo, but special treats and gifts didn’t have their usual magical powers in this situation. Until this past Sunday. Pete went out in the morning to get eggs and Dunkin’ Donuts was on the way (nope, not on the way at all) so he grabbed a box of munchkins. Norah has had her fair share of sugary goodness in her 2.5 years but I’m not sure she’d ever consumed the delight that is a donut hole. She was all ooohhs and aaahhs over the pretty pink and orange box and we let her eat half of one after she finished her actual breakfast. A bit later she was sitting on the kitchen counter hanging out with me talking about how she wanted another donut to which I replied sure thing, just go poopy in the potty. She refused, but not with her usual drama, and then a few moments later said I need to go potty. I took her in the bathroom with just the tiniest inkling of hope and she climbed up on to the toilet and I sat on the floor. She peed almost immediately and then said don’t get me up. I of course obliged, hope rising, looked away, heard a couple toots (wow, yes, I am really writing about poop and toots) and then she said I’m done. Did you poop I asked her? And she got the biggest damn grin ever on her face and exclaimed I did!! I squealed and jumped up and down and she smiled and laughed and we danced and cheered and then of course flushed and washed hands, and then we went into the kitchen to let her pick out any donut hole she wanted. Dude. If giving my daughter one little donut hole as a reward gets her to overcome some irrational toddler fear, fuck yeah I’ll do it. Of course I also told her how proud and happy she made me and honestly this is just as rewarding to her, but I think the donut hole was a nice bonus. Today she did it again and though we’re fully prepared for the occasional setback, we’re so damn excited to be progressing.

There are lots of other examples, but I think you catch my drift. I’m sure at some point before I actually had a toddler of my own I renounced this form of negotiation, especially that of offering special treats for certain behaviors, and surely I judged someone else for doing so. Lesson learned and once again proof positive that thou who knows not, shall judge not.

Elderland out. XO.

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