Monday, December 7, 2009

Santa Claus is coming......

Otherwise known as the poster boy for Bribe and Threaten Parenting.

Many years ago, I was in a car with Cousin Unabitch and her young daughter, we'll call her Eee. Eee was misbehaving in some mild form, and though my cousin was addressing the issue in a bland passive way, I thought I could jump in and improve the situation for her, since she wasn't really getting to the point, of which Eee needed to shut up. So I jumped in and made a comment to Eee to the effect of "if you quit being a pain in the ass, I will do something nice for you". To which my cousin whipped her head around and stated "no no no, we don't bribe her to be good. We want her to be good because she wants to".

Well knock me over with a diaper genie. I mean, if you are not bribing and not threatening,( and she certainly was not spanking), what is it exactly that you are doing? What does that leave??? Now, Eee was and still is a shy and naturally quiet and calm child. She had about as much motivation to misbehave as a fly does to skip over a juicy turd. It is just nature. How they are made. A person never knows what goes on behind closed doors of course, but from where I was sitting, it looked to me like Cousin Unabitch was just re-packaging bribery into a prettier picture. Eee was about 4 or 5 at the time and now that I have all this personal experience I can say for sure, kids don't behave because they want to do it. Take out all the obvious bribery tools like money, candy, stickers, toys etc. Then remove all the overt threats such as physical pain, favored things taken away, confinement etc. What do they want? They want to connect. They want you. When you praise a child for doing well, you are using your praise as a positive way to prompt the child to do it again. There is an effect that if the child does not do what you want, you will not praise them. You will remove yourself emotionally if they do not behave. You can call it love based, or positive parenting or whatever you want to call it. If you ask me, that is still bribing or threatening, it just looks and sounds much nicer.

Embrace it, own it, call it like it is!

And if you want to ask me again, lemme tell you, nothing symbolizes Bribe and Threaten Parenting like Santa! The whole gambit is one enormous bribe followed up by an even larger threat. What's worse, is the entire (Christmas celebrating) world is in on it. There are reminders in song, and on TV. In school, in people's yards and everywhere else you go there is Santa, watching you. He see's you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good blah blah blah.

So Genea, she is a rather rigid little girl and that serves her well in a lot of ways. When it comes to Santa she accepts Santa is out there and therefore accepts the entire package. Flying reindeer, fat guy in the chimney, elves. Teena, she is more of a questioner kind of kid. I have been getting on both of them lately for their heavy duty extreme whining and today Teena wanted to know, "if Santa can see us does that mean he can hear us too"? When I told her yes, OF COURSE HE CAN, she looked at me squinty eyed for a second and said, "nooooooo, how could he?" Listen Teena, your mother would not lie to you!

The past few weeks we have been laying it on thick. Calmly asking the girls, what do you think Santa will say? Do you think Santa will be happy with you right now? So once a year I outsource responsibility to a third party in the North Pole, loaded with gifts and happiness. I have been known to reach for the phone and pretend to start dialing, since I have a very special circumstance here and so I have Santa's home phone number. Gonna' turn them in myself.

Reminder: tomorrow is Too True Tuesday. What are you buying yourself for Christmas?


  1. When I took psychology waaaay back in the day, one of the things they talked about was "positive reinforcement" which is just a fancy way of saying bribery. So if the psych world is on board with it, it must have merit, yes?

  2. My mother knew how to bride and threaten and follow through. If she talked to you in a store through gritted teeth and said the words, "wait until we get to the car missy." You had better start calculating an escape plan because your little fanny was going to get a spanking when you got to the car. That said she was a great Mom who raised two kids who both turned into productive members of society.

    I agree with you, we call it positive reinforcement (bribes) and incentives (threats) but it is what it is. Let's anti up! Rock on accidental Mommy!

  3. i agree! santa has been a constant reinforcer in our house this december!!! =)

  4. last year on Christmas Eve on our way to church P put in a call to report Fudge... it took every ounce of self control I had not to laugh at the small boy crying in the back seat.

  5. You need one of those elves who watch all day and report to Santa at night and then show up in a different place the next morning. That might be Teena's buy-in.

    The problem with the Santa threat is that there is no follow through. Seriously now--do you know ANYONE who only got a lump of coal in their stocking? No. And do you know anyone who deserved that?? Hmmm...

  6. Kate, Santa has followed through in my house. Two years ago, two of my kids got nothing, nada, except a chocolate orange that I gave them and "family gifts". We had bought one of them a whole new bedroom full of stuff, but had to take it all back before the big day. One of mine still doesn't get much.

    Essie, you crack me up. Reminds me of a quote I once read by Abe Lincoln. He said that the reason he saved the pig from the mud was selfishness. That the motive for everything is selfishness. We only do things so that we don't have to feel badly. Everything in life is a huge bribe!

    Unfortunately, even the Santa bribe doesn't work in my house. What to do with a kid that wants nothing more than to hurt you?

  7. You can tell your cousin that everyone ALWAYS does what they do because they want to do it. For example, sometimes your niece decides that she wants to be good (because she wants whatever bribe you've offered) more than she wants to yell her head off. :-)

  8. I can get the spawn to behave for a solid month just by telling them I have Santa on speed dial. It's awesome.

  9. I think that there is something about moral stages of development and that it isn't until stage 4 or 5 or something (rusty psych stuff rambling around up there) that people truly do stuff because it's the right thing to do, not because there isn't something in it for them or alternately because of fear of retribution (which are different levels). Help me out here, Annie. Didn't you write about this once too? There are many adults walking around who haven't reached this stage! But, I'm not aware of ANY 4 or 5 year olds who have. =)

    When I was a kid, my mom did one better than Santa: she used to threaten (involving actual phone dialing) to call "the boogey man" to come get us. And that one worked year round. (Can you imagine? Miracle we survived childhood in the 70's, huh?!)

  10. My mom threatened me with the boogeyman, too! Of course, my mom is a royal bitch who hated every minute of motherhood.

    I tried the Santa threat thing last year. My kids scoffed at me "You know Santa ain't real, mom, who you tryin' to fool?"

    I got myself Andes mints, warm gloves, comfy jeans, and smelly lovely incense.

  11. I have seen those little elves, maybe I will get one for the whole year.
    The boogey man- that is pretty mean! My parents were trying too hard to talk us out of being scared of stuff. The belt though, thats what they used instead of the boogeyman threat.
    The girls don't know what a lump of coal is. I tried to explain, then I finally said, you get a pile of dirt instead of presents.

  12. You should totally find Jesus. He works year round :) And ramps up the consequences ten fold. "You don't want to burn in hell for eternity, do you?"

  13. Ya know, I thought about writing something similar and decided not too Annieology- so I am glad you did!

  14. My mom whaled the snot out of me to get me to behave in a way she thought was appropriate. I've forgiven her because she was 43 when I was born and she'd never had close contact with a baby before. With little patience and a fondness for lounging around and playing cards with her childless friends, a crying baby who made demands on her was a nightmare from hell..
    Of course she threatened to tell Santa about my misdeeds.
    I never hit any of my three kids and I genuinely enjoy their company. I never used Santa as a threat. My problem was breaking the news that there was no actual Santa, although the spirit of giving is alive and well, yadda yadda.
    My kids are still angry that I "lied" to them about Santa but if that's the worst thing I did to them I figure I did all right.

  15. OK, I found your blog...somehow...through another blog...and I've been catching up from the beginning. LOVE IT. Been trying to withhold commenting since it would be, oh, MONTHS late, but hey, this topic just hit home with me! :-)

    I'm a dog trainer, and in dog training there are basically four kinds of motivation discussed: positive reinforcement (giving something they want), positive punishment (giving something they DON'T want), negative reinforcement (taking away something they DON'T want), and negative punishment (taking away something the want). Positive trainers use positive reinforcement (i.e. giving treats) and negative punishment (i.e. turning or walking away). I will, not uncommonly, tell my clients that I believe in bribery, because come on, that's what we're doing here! If I'm training a trick I don't bribe, the dog doesn't see the food until he's done what I ask, but if, say, the dog is terrified of me, I'm going to bribe him to come closer by offering tasty, delicious hot dog. Nothin' wrong with that. Though I get some funny/dirty looks when I CALL it bribery. Go figure.

    Oh, and I get a lot of the "I want the dog to do it just for me, not for a treat!" Really? How 'bout you do everything in life and never get any payment for it, in gratitude, food, or money, and see how eager you are... And like you said, they'll have to give SOME motivation, whether they recognize/acknowledge it or not.

    Not to compare children to dogs. Nope. Would never do that. *shakes head earnestly* But if I were going would probably sound a lot like the above.

    Beware when I catch up to realtime. You will be inundated with (long) comments and added to my reader INSTANTLY. You have made me shake with laughter places I'm not supposed to be laughing repeatedly :-)

  16. Um right, if you cannot convince a child speaking the same language to behave, how are you going to tell your dog to behave just for you? Please.
    Call it like it is right!


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