When is a bribe an incentive?
I used to think bribing children was a really, really bad thing. Then I had to move countries in a hurry. Leaving the school, home and culture the girls had always known was a seriously big deal. How could I make the prospect of upping sticks more appealing? Getting a trampoline had, coincidentally, been on their wish lists forever. They also wanted a cat, quite desperately. I wasn't particularly proud of myself, but I soon found myself back in the UK, with a cat, a trampoline, and reasonably happy children.
Had these blatant bribes corrupted them or warped their sense of values? I really don't think so. Yet I still felt that bribery is best avoided. Until it was time to move again. And yes, you've guessed it, here we are in the new house, with kitten number two and an even bigger trampoline.
Star charts or slave labour?
I still wouldn't use bribery lightly. But I have been lucky, in that the girls have almost always been quite reasonable about things, and it's rare for me to have to push to get co-operation. When we have had a recurring problem -- getting up for school in the morning was a daily crunch point for a while after we moved -- we've used star charts, with a coveted book as a prize after 20 stars.
But is it wrong to use incentives to get results? That is, after all, how it works in the adult world. No one toils for free. Your reason to get up in the morning, if you're lucky, is job satisfaction, but it is also the pay packet at the end of the month. Ah, but, I hear you say, that money is earned. Well, children can earn too. A lot of parents I know use a bit of child labour in return for pocket money - washing the car, say, or clearing out a chimney, whoops, a spare room or something.
The lovely Englishmum
, mother of two teenage boys, uses gentle reminders about pocket money to keep things shipshape at home. She says: "I'm ashamed to say that, like their mother, my children are generally motivated by money and cake (not necessarily in that order!) If you can call it bribery, I do insist on certain basic things being done around the house (hanging wet towels up, rinsing plates and putting them in the dishwasher) before handing over their money every month, and if things start to slacken off a bit, a quick reminder about their cash incentive is all I need to set them on the straight and narrow again."
Carrot or stick
I was very struck the other day when we went to a party thrown by my friend Helen. Her children were taking coats, handing round drinks and passing bowls of crisps to guests -- without running off and eating them all themselves.
"My children wouldn't be this helpful in a million years," I marvelled. "How did you do it?"
"Bribery," said Helen.
"They're each getting a fiver's worth of downloads from iTunes straight after the party."
The result of this deal was happy children, happy parents, cosseted -- and impressed -- guests. Was anyone's moral code warped? I don't think so. And yet, it's still not for me. Businesswoman blogger Erica Douglas of Littlemummy
and mother of Erin, agrees.
"We don't really do the bribery thing, we're definitely more stick (not an actual stick obviously!) than carrot but I think that reflects real life.We're pretty lucky that most of the time Erin trusts our judgement and that we're doing what's best for her too."
"I don't use bribery and never have. I have always explained toJames that we do things to help one another, because we are a family, not because we expect to get anything out of it.
"I know that sounds a bit worthy but I have always felt it was really important. However, from a very early age he would sometimes get a treat if he'd been a big help.Not always, so it didn't become an expectation;. Now he's older, I will pay him for bigger tasks - trimming a hedge for example.
"Or, if he goes shopping, I'll let him get a chocolate bar or keep the small change. But I feel very strongly that children should learn from an early age that families should pull together, help one another, do things without an expectation of reward."
I'm with Jane on this. I do think families should have a communal spirit which rises above who gets paid how much for what. At the same time, I think the children should have a bit of pride in their own independent efforts. I'm always a bit shocked, for example, when the girls come home, telling me so-and-so got a new iPhone for doing well in this exam or that. Surely the point of these exams is not to please the parents, who then have to reward the child for doing well? The child is doing the work for themselves, in this case, for their future. And what do you do if the child does not pass the exam? Take the phone away?
My parents had a strict policy of not rewarding children for exam performance and, though I thought they were mean/cruel/borderline evil at the time, I now follow the same course. And I would be quite happy if my daughters went on and did likewise with their own children when the time comes. Though I will reserve a grandparent's right to bribe them with sweeties, rubbishy toys and unsuitable DVDs to come and see me, of course.