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‘Tis the Season…to be Bribing? (on manipulating behavior)

November 29, 2011

We are decorating early and in earnest this year.  It is the first time decorating a Christmas tree for all four of the children.  The Little Peppers because in years past they have been too little, and J., well, just because it is.  She has taken the task to heart.  She helped sew stars to adorn the mantle and a popcorn chain for our little porch tree:

And she took this commemorative photo of the first ornament she’s ever hung:

Each child quickly developed their own ornament hanging style.  Charlie had a favorite branch on which he hung all of his ornaments (which required me to stealthily move them as he went to the box for another, lest the branch give way).  J. hung all the breakable up high.  Elisabeth was the only one of the littles that understood how to use the hooks, thus her ornaments mysteriously stayed in place.  Miss P threw glass balls around the whole time.

And if you don’t recognize these:

they are the “presents waiting ‘neath the tree”, the low point point of our holiday decor, courtesy of the latest hobby of the little peppers, wrapping up small things in paper.

Tonight J. is wrapping all 25 pieces of a playmobile nativity set we ordered to follow friend Betsy Kirk’s advent reading plan for toddlers (from her blog “”).  We have not attempted a formal family devotional of this sort in a while. The last time we circled the children around Daddy for a Bible reading Miss P, upon realizing mid-story that we were in fact seated in a circle, took off running laps yelling “Duck, Duck, Goooooose!”

This advent season, however, I will be employing my newly discovered parenting secret: BRIBES!

Each week we enjoy a lovely day at a Montessori preschool all thanks to BRIBES.  The year did not begin well for young Charlie.  He was fast developing a penchant for rolling around on the floor during circle time and refusing to participate in any of the montessori activities the other bright eyed youngsters seemed to relish; activities such as picking up a cotton ball with tongs, and pouring grains of rice from one glass pitcher to another. Or this week’s irresistible lesson: how to dust a shelf.  One of his teachers approached me about his fondness for talking over the teacher during story time.  “Perhaps,” she suggested, “He just talks a lot when he’s nervous?”  As the weeks went on it became clear, he just talks a lot.

The teachers made various suggestions, all gentle Montessori suggestions, such as, “Try applying some deep pressure to his shoulders when he begins to get squirrelly.”  I still am not sure what this dear lady was talking about, but on week four I took DRASTIC ACTION.

“This week,” I told him, “If you : follow all of your teachers directions and you listen to the story and you sing the songs and do not lay down on the floor, we will stop at the gas station on the way home and you can buy a WHOLE PACK OF GUM!”  And if you do not obey the teacher or you talk during story time or you refuse to sing or you lay down on the floor, then I will take you in the bathroom and discipline you.”  And what do you know, we suddenly have a model student.  Perfection.  And the more he participates the more he loves it!

The very first week of the bribe his teacher smiled knowingly at the end of class, “I knew if we just gave him time, he’d be fine.” I wanted to add, “And a pack of gum.”  But, as neither bribes nor discipline are the Montessori way, I just smiled in agreement.

So tomorrow night, I will be offering each child a small candy-cane to lick while Daddy reads the advent reflection.  As long as they are listening quietly, they may continue to lick.  But if anybody starts racing around wildly, the candy cane will promptly be snatched away.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. George permalink
    November 29, 2011 9:20 pm

    Great post! I will think of Miss P the next time I realize I’m sitting among a circle of people.
    Honest question: Is “deep pressure applied to his shoulders” a massage or a pinch?
    It must mean a pinch; Charlie’s already pretty loose.

  2. Beth S permalink
    November 30, 2011 1:43 am

    Your posts make me so happy. I’ll be first in line to buy your book someday.

  3. MurfsTurf permalink
    November 30, 2011 8:15 am

    As I was scrolling through the post, Keegan was watching the screen. As soon as she saw Elisabeth and Charlie she pointed and started laughing happily. She knows her 1st cousins once removed! =)

    • Betsy permalink
      December 2, 2011 12:55 am

      Either that or she knows a couple of Clownarounds when she sees them!

  4. November 30, 2011 12:40 pm

    A word to give you hope: the readings are short, Lucy. Very, very short!

  5. lauren goessling permalink
    December 6, 2011 1:50 am

    lucy, i am stalking you from fb and love your blog! do you mind telling me where you got your stockings? 🙂

    • December 6, 2011 2:10 am

      Hi Lauren. I’m sorry to say they are a limited edition. My mother-in-law knit them for the children last week!

      • lauren goessling permalink
        December 6, 2011 2:54 am

        aw, that makes them 10x cooler than i thought they were! 🙂

  6. Carolyn permalink
    December 14, 2011 7:20 pm

    I love it, Lucy! We implement a similar method to promote many things, including not wrenching one’s arm away from the nurse and kicking and screaming “NO!!” while receiving a shot.

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