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Wherever you look, Suffolk parents are under attack

PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 February 2017

Ellen's youngest son

Ellen's youngest son

Archant

The criticism of our parenting skils comes from all sides. We are over-involved or overly permissive. We are over-protective, over-sensitive, over-zealous. We over-diagnose, over-medicate and over-accommodate our kids, who are hideously overindulged, writes Ellen Widdup.

In short, we are afraid of their tantrums, afraid to let them fail and afraid to say, “No”.

Well, hell, yes!

Parenting is a minefield. And often you are forced to take a short cut to avoid the explosives.

Take bribery, for example.

Last Friday, it cost me 60p and a packet of Hula Hoops to get my kids ready for school.

This was an unusually expensive morning, but for a combination of reasons – lack of sleep, illness, bad mood (and that was just me) – negotiation wasn’t my strong point.

I spent 20p on cajoling the eldest to unload the dishwasher, 10p on convincing my son to eat the rest of his porridge and a whopping 30p on insisting on a final practice of their words for the end-of-the-week spelling test. The eldest two graduated to financial sweeteners recently when I realised leftover Quality Street chocolates (the flavours that get overlooked in the scramble for The Big Purple One) were no longer going to cut the mustard.

The baby, however, was enticed out of a tantrum with the Hula Hoops – which was, in my eyes, a major victory.

At that moment, the world was mine. As far as I was concerned, he had reached the age of reason. Bribes could now be employed. He was officially the kind of kid I could handle.

I expect some of you to write in.

Like I said, parent-bashing is a popular pastime these days and we all know bribery is bad. Good parents motivate their children to do the right thing in deeper ways.

To which I say: “blah blah, meh, meh, poo poo” and a whole host of other dismissive syllables.

As an enlightened mum, I know that bribing a child to behave is as unwise as washing a kid’s mouth out with soap.

But bribing my kids to do the things that they don’t want to do makes the chore a win for us both.

My daughter didn’t want to unload the dishwasher. But she did want a shiny silver coin to add to her piggy bank.

I could have forced her to comply. But this would be a battle of wills, involve a lot of shouting and stress.

Bribes equal speed. Bribes equal an easy life.

Bribes are for tasks which are completed without fuss for some kind of reward – the same way I might, after a long day at work, promise myself a glass of wine with my meal.

Of course, the flip side is that instead of teaching my children a little cooperation, I’ve schooled them in the art of extortion.

But does employing this time-honoured carrot and stick technique mean I am setting myself up for failure in the long run? That’s a pretty big question.

What kind of failure? Parenting failure? All-around-life failure? No, I don’t believe so. The truth is, bribery is just one of many tools in the arsenal of a parent. The key is knowing when to deploy it.

There isn’t a parent I know who didn’t make it through potty training without sticker charts, chocolate buttons, or the promise of getting to watch a favorite
TV show. Most older children can be won round with video games, Lego or a trip to the park.

I say we should use this tactic to our advantage for as long as humanly possible.

If it makes you feel better 
about yourselves, call it motivation, incentive, reward, encouragement. But don’t dismiss the bribe. It’s the easiest way to get through this parenting lark with your sanity intact.

That and threats. (You may prefer to call those consequences...) We will get to them next week.

@EllenWiddup

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