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To Bribe or Not to Bribe: That Is the Question


If you’ve ever kept company with a toddler like mine, these scenarios might sound a tad familiar: It’s time to get in the car, but guess who doesn’t want to climb into their seat? The “clean-up, clean-up” song fails to strike the right chord, so the room remains littered with toys; yesterday, they loved hot dogs--you stopped at three--but now, they can't be bothered and only want cookies; getting dressed has been the same process since birth, but today they prefer to run around wearing mismatched socks and a grin.

When these moments occur, I’ve tried a few things, none of which seems to work consistently. I’ve repeated myself until I’m blue in the face, I’ve raised my voice to this shrill, screeching harpie-like status, I’ve lowered my voice to that “take me seriously or else” tone, and I’ve punted to dad, which does work sometimes--seriously, whose side is this kid on?

But, would you like to know what works every time? Spoiler alert: it’s probably also familiar to you. It’s lollipops. Those tiny, colorful bursts of flavor you buy by the bucketful at Trader Joe’s are like currency when it comes to my sanity and my three-year-old son.

Yes, there, I said it -- my son becomes an attentive, listening, obedient angel when I use lollipop bribes. Usually, when things are mellow around here, buying his complacency doesn’t happen so much, but that is because he’s saving up for those moments when it really counts, like when we're in a checkout line, or need to leave the house in two minutes, or when the school bus is rounding the corner with its cheery "honk honk!" to pick him up.

It turns out, I’m not alone. The other day, I was talking to an awesome mom friend with two sons. She openly admitted (hallelujah!) that if her kids aren’t toeing the line for her, incentives move the needle in her favor. So, when the occasion calls for it, she allows for sugary-sweet negotiations.

During our conversation, I learned something else. We both have a secret fear that we’re part of the Weaker Parents Who’ve Somehow Caved club. We’re both willing to defend our moves, but worry that somewhere out there, there are magical, perfect parents who have magical, perfect children and have never once used a bribe.