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Bargaining vs. Bribery

Your precious, stubborn toddler says “NO!” with exasperating frequency.  You have resorted to bargaining to gain at least some degree of consent, rather than dealing with a screaming fit on every occasion.  At what point does bargaining become bribery?  What lessons will your toddler learn from the experience?  What’s a mom (or nanny) to do?

It’s a fine line between bargaining and bribery.  No bright line test exists: what is bargaining to one may be bribery to another.  In the end, you have to do what is right for you and your toddler.

If you offer a special treat (either a tangible item like a dessert or a non-tangible item like getting to stay up an extra half hour after bedtime) to incent your toddler to do what he should do, he may learn that, if he fusses over things, he will benefit.  Therefore, he will fuss over things that he ordinarily would not object to . . . because he wants the benefit of having to be incented. 

Because this lesson, once learned, is difficult to un-learn, it’s best not to present your toddler with this lesson in the first place.  So, if your toddler says “NO!” when you really want or need him to do as you’ve directed, then perhaps your best response is to explain the reason(s) that your chosen course of action is best, remind your toddler of the benefits of following your chosen course of action (the benefits that would ensue with or without fuss), assert your authority in a loving manner, and, if need be, warn of and provide consequences for your toddler’s failure to comply.  For example, you might say, “Johnny, I’d like you to eat your dinner because your little body needs nutrition for you to live, to have energy to play with your buddies, and to grow up big and strong.  Besides, look at what we’re serving : some of your favorite foods are on the table.  You love mashed potatoes and gravy.”  If this is not persuasive, proceed to, “Johnny, I’m afraid that this is non-negotiable.  I’m the parent (or nanny) here, and I’m responsible for your welfare.  You need to mind me.  Please.”  If this is still not persuasive, proceed to, “Johnny, if you do not behave properly, you will have go into time-out for five minutes.  Is that what you want?”  If this is still not persuasive, then it’s time to actually put Johnny in time-out for the designated five minutes.  When the five minutes have passed, reinforce that you love Johnny and again ask Johnny to behave properly.  If he still wishes not to comply, offer another time out, and follow up as necessary.  This process may seem long and laborious, but once you establish that you will not back down, Johnny will come to understand that he must comply with your directions.

By standing your ground in a loving and consistent manner, you will help your toddler learn to mind you without resorting to bargaining or bribery.

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