Finding the right discipline techniques for your child can be challenging. As parents, we want to find and utilize tools that will help our children become more mature, realize that their choices have (good and bad) consequences, and will help motivate them toward moral and socially acceptable behaviors.
When I became a mom, I had a pretty hefty bag of parenting tools at my disposal. But over time, my son’s special Autism needs made me throw most of my tools in the trash.
There was one tool that worked pretty consistently…but I didn’t like to use it.
The tool? Bribery.
Am I alone? We’ve all been there…right?
It’s the ol’ “If you finish your broccoli you can have a cookie” song and dance.
But I found myself cringing every time I bribed my son towards the behavior I desired from him. Plus, as he got older, I found myself increasingly frustrated and concerned.
I wanted him to obey because it is the right thing to do.
I wanted him to eat his green beans for the sake of his health.
I wanted him to sit through a church in order to learn more about God.
I pulled back on the bribes, trying to explain the intrinsic value of why we should or should not do certain things.
But that didn’t work either. Abstract concepts and Autism are not a match made in heaven.
I expressed my frustration at one of Benji’s therapy appointments.
“So, what seems to work with him? What have you tried?” Our counselor asked.
“Well, honestly, if I tell him that he can play on ipad if he cleans his room, he’s really motivated.” I picked at the tufts on the couch, not meeting her eye. “But I don’t really like to do that.”
“Why is that?”
I looked up. “Because I don’t want to bribe him to do the things he should be doing already. I mean, he’s part of the family. He should clean up his room.”
“That’s true,” she nodded. “But, call it what you will–bribing, incentives–we all are motivated by something. I mean, even if you love your job, people ultimately go to work for the paycheck. Money is a huge motivator to get up and be responsible each morning.”I paused, listening to her reasoning.
“Eventually,” she went on. “We want Benji to get in the habit of doing the right thing, incentive or not. But utilizing incentives for a desired outcome isn’t wrong. It can be a very good thing.”
“So you’re telling me it’s okay to bribe my kid?”
We both laughed.
And I relaxed a bit.
Bribing–incentives–(whatever) works for us.
In fact, it has been the best tool in my bag for motivating Benji towards good behavior and fewer meltdowns.
Now that he’s 8, I don’t have to promise a cookie for him to eat his vegetables. He knows that eating his veggies is part of dinner.
But in other things, an incentive–small or large–sparks his interest; it motivates and excites him.
In many cases, it’s the difference between Stuck and Moving Forward.
I don’t apply incentives to everything. Sometimes I throw down the “because you’re part of this family” card or remind him that kindness and being friendly is its own reward.
But for our cyclical struggles, like church, the incentive has become a reliable tool.
Here’s how it works for us on Sundays: If Benji sits quietly with us during the service and participates in Sunday School, he can watch Pokemon on Netflix that afternoon.
This is a huge incentive for my son because I don’t let him watch Pokemon any other day of the week (heaven help me. One day a week is often too much for me). But he loves Pokemon and looks forward to it each week (in fact, he has started calling Sunday “Pokemon Day”).
We’ve only had one Sunday where he was unable to watch his show. He was loudly disappointed but he got over it quickly. He knew the terms of the incentive.
Would I like him to sit still, participate in the service, and be an attentive listener in Sunday School because he wants to learn about God and please his parents, teachers, and friends? Yes, I’d love for him to be motivated by those things.
But they are abstract rewards, even if he understands or even wants those things in theory.
He struggles with the abstract, so giving him the concrete reward of Pokemon is the incentive that helps remind him of how he should act and wants to act.
The Pokemon incentive is immediate gratification. But as Benji is getting older, we are trying to inspire him to work towards a goal with delayed gratification too.
Right now, he is doing chores to get a new (Pokemon, what else?) toy. Micah, Benji’s twin brother, recently bought a stuffed Pokemon toy with his money a few weeks ago and now, Benji really, really wants one too.
The solution? He has to work for it. So I made a chart. For each chore he earns 25c: 40 chores (unloading the dishwasher, sweeping, cleaning his room, etc) will get him to his goal.
He’s pretty excited to mark the dots on his chart so he can visually see his progress.
Am I bribing my kid to do housework? Eh, maybe.
Bribing? Incentives? Working towards a goal? We’ve all been there as parents and as individuals.
After all, as adults, we “bribe” or remind ourselves of the incentives of XYZ all day long to help motivate us towards our goals. Let’s face it: rewards motivate behavior.
I try not to abuse the “bribe.” He doesn’t get to eat a lollypop or play on the ipad for every dot and tittle of good behavior. I want to raise a man, not a spoiled brat.
But incentives are part of the real world, so I’m planting that tool firmly in my parenting bag and am throwing out the guilt of “bribing” my kid with what motivates him.
After all, my therapist said it was okay.
Do you use bribes or incentives with your child(ren)?
How do you motivate your kids (Autistic or not) towards good behavior?
Share your story below!
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