All posts in Everyday Challenges & Trip Ups

Bribing: It doesn’t always work!?

The majority of parents I have talked to during my 20 years as a parent educator have told me that, at some point in time, they bribed their kids. No kidding! Who hasn’t?

But recently it was brought to my attention that there are lots of bloggers and blog readers out there who have been discussing the effects of bribing on their kids. Since bribing seems to be a universal parenting tool, I thought I’d share my two cents’ worth.

Personally, I think bribing is insulting to not only the kids but to the parents as well. Yes, I know it works from time to time, but that’s the problem. It only works some of the time. I consider myself a lazy parent.
Here’s my list of “musts” when I consider any parenting strategy:

  • It has to work 90% of the time.
  • It has to be something that other people will use with my kids.
  • It can’t make things worse.
  • It has to be respectful to everyone.
  • It has to teach my kids something so they can build skills to use when they leave my house.
  • It has to work so well that soon, I am only using it 5% of the time.

Bribing, I’m afraid, doesn’t do any of that.

Here is what it does do:

  1. How would you feel if, at the end of dinner, when you were feeling full as a tick (my husband’s description, which says it all), your child said, “Mom/Dad, I’ll make my bed every morning this week if you eat the rest of the broccoli.” Absurd, right? Well, that’s what we sound like when we try to bribe our kids.
  2. We have already established that bribing works sometimes—they always eat their veggies for an extra helping of dessert—but what about the times it doesn’t work? Then what? More bribing? Bigger bribes? A full-blown temper tantrum? Face it—you got nothin’.
  3. What about the way it makes your child feel when you take away their decision-making power by trying to bribe them into doing something? What do you think this manipulative “parenting tool” ultimately does to your relationship with that child? And, who else might use bribing as an effective strategy on your child? HMMMMM—now there’s a truly scary thought.

Bribing is a “last ditch” parenting strategy. If it worked, we would use it all the time for everything. We know it doesn’t work to create lasting, sustainable change, so why use it at all?

One dad blogger, who wrote about bribing, captured my sentiments exactly.  For those of you who know me, you’ll understand why this blog had me howling.

Child-Driven Play is Serious Stuff

Child-Driven Play is Serious StuffA lot of the parents I meet could be called “nervous” parents. They don’t want to see their children get hurt – but then, who does? They are the parents who are quick to say, “watch out for the …; please don’t, that’s dangerous; you might get hurt if you …” If you are one of these parents and you’re beginning to wonder if all this worrying is doing more harm than good, read on.

The one note of caution that I have is, don’t overdo it. While it is a parent’s natural tendency to be concerned about their children, there comes a time when letting go and allowing them to experience life on their own terms is critical. Yes – critical. If you don’t allow your children to begin making their own decisions on which risks they are willing to take, you are depriving them of one of the best experiences life has to offer – natural consequences.

Many parents are making this same mistake – they hover over their children, feeling like they need to impart their wisdom about what risks to take safely or they need to help their children learn how to play the “right” way. While it is developmentally helpful for you to play with your baby and toddler, once your child is three or four you should just leave them alone. Experts on the role of play in a child’s development say that:

“Child-driven play – not adult play … has the greatest benefits to children because it contributes to ‘cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being’.”
(See Suttie article below)

Furthermore, child-driven play allows your children to learn the natural consequences for the risks they take and the choices they make.

Stepping back and allowing your child to experience the natural consequences of their actions can be difficult, and that is why Parenting On Track has an audio on Natural Consequences available for download on our website. This information packed audio will give you further insight into why natural consequences are important and how best to use them with your children.

Letting go and allowing your children to play uninstructed by you (in a reasonably safe environment, of course… no one’s advocating sending them off to play in quicksand or out in the middle of the highway) may mean a few more bumps and bruises, so you might want to buy some extra band-aids. But think about the freedom your children will get to experience, and the self-reliance and self-expression they will develop because of that freedom.

For more information on child-directed play and why it’s so important read:

“Confessions of an Anxious Parent” by Jill Sutie

New York Times Magazine “Taking Play Seriously” By Robin Marantz Henig Published: February 17, 2008

To Spank or Not To Spank?

To Spank or Not To Spank?I’ve been reading a lot on the web lately about punishment. People want to talk about spanking, or “consequences that work,” or ways to get your kids to behave. What we know is that punishment, spanking and punitive consequences DON’T work. Consider this recent New York Times Magazine article which remarked on this,

“A recent study found… (p)arents who resorted to yelling or spanking were far more likely to say their disciplinary approach was ineffective. Given that parents often don’t admit to yelling and spanking, the study probably underestimates how widespread the problem of ineffective discipline really is.”

For more information see the link to the Parker-Pope article below.

Why are we stuck?

So, if we all agree that traditional discipline methods are not effective, to say nothing of how lousy they make us feel, then why are we still going back to them time and again? Because it’s easier? Because we’re frustrated? Or, maybe it’s because we simply don’t know what else to do?

After working with parents for over 20 years, and raising 5 children of my own, I strongly believe that 99 times out of 100, parents are doing the best they can with the information that they have. And it is because of a lack of new information that so many parents go back to those old discipline methods which are not only ineffective, but also pull everyone down along with them.

So, I am going to give you some new information in order for you to put aside any mistaken notions you might have about discipline and move forward with some new ideas on building relationships.

Okay, I’m ready for some new information.

In many cases, traditional discipline strategies don’t work because children have figured out that it is much easier to get your attention by misbehaving. It’s as simple as that. Children have learned that if they misbehave, you stop what you are doing, and then you pay attention to them through time-outs, lecturing, yelling, spanking or whatever it is you do to punish.

Now that you know this, you might be thinking, “Okay, then what do I do?” One thing you can do is to pay more attention to your children’s “useful” behavior. Stop what you are doing, whether it’s talking on your cell phone, watching the football game, or making dinner, and pay attention to your child when they are playing nicely, sharing with their siblings or helping set the table. Show them, again and again, that their “useful” behavior is worth your time and energy, and you will begin to get more of the useful, and less of the useless.

The Parenting On Track™ program is firmly rooted in these types of positive, relationship-building techniques, and our multi-media Home Program can take you step by step through the ins and outs of putting aside ineffective discipline strategies and focusing on moving your family forward.

Let’s put an end to the debate about spanking – it has gotten way too much air time in my opinion – and instead talk about parental involvement, empowerment and teachable moments.

“It’s Not Discipline, It’s a Teachable Moment,” by Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times Magazine, Sept. 14, 2008.

That’s Right. It’s Not Your Routine!

It’s Not Your Routine!How many children have you heard recently talking with glee, pleasure and pride about all the fun wheels, stickers, emergency bags, homework nooks, or checklists their parents have created for them? Right, I didn’t think so.

Routines, it seems, require oodles of conversation among parents. The most popular at the moment seems to be Morning Routines and Homework Routines. This is no surprise as school has just begun, but come the holidays… well, you know, it all falls apart during the hustle and bustle of holiday fun, and then we’re back to the same conversation when the dust finally settles.

Now, if you are looking to read about what other parents say on the subject of routines, or if you have a fabulous story to tell about a clever way you get your kids organized in the morning, you may want to skip the rest of this article. It’s not for you. If, however, you are willing to challenge yourself, your decisions and your intentions about the purpose of your routines, you’ve found the perfect place, and I’m so glad you came!

It has been my observation that, more often than not, parents who talk about all the ways they are “helping” their children “create routines” under the guise of “making the children’s lives easier and supporting them to become more successful people,” are spending time and energy so that they, the parents, have something to feel good about.

If you are starting to balk about where this is all going right about now, go back to the first question I asked – Are your children talking about their routines and “routine helpers” with glee, pleasure and pride?

It seems to me that if parents were really creating routines for their kids, the parents wouldn’t go around talking about it all the time. It seems to me that personal routines, though indeed personal, are mainly created with the wrong people in mind.

Consider this…

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if the intention behind creating routines was to teach our children how to create their own routines, then THE CHILDREN would be the ones talking about them?

As a mother of 5, I know first-hand the value of routines. The difference is this, what I taught my kids to do was HOW TO CREATE FOR THEMSELVES systems, routines and emergency bags ONCE… and then, I sent them on their way to discover and create the routines that worked best for them. I couldn’t, in all honesty, tell you what those systems and routines are, but I do know this…

My kids have been finishing homework and their household chores, and we have been leaving the house on time and for years. And it ain’t because I decided that I was going to micro-manage my children’s lives for “their own good!”

One of the driving principles of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program is that of raising independent, responsible, resourceful, resilient, problem-solving children. How do you suppose kids learn those skills? By using routines and systems that we create for them? Nope. By trying one, failing; making changes, failing; getting back up, failing; getting back up and finally arriving at the perfect solution, the perfect system, the perfect routine for them.

I ask you which of the two choices below is more important to you – really.

  • Children who brush their teeth every day because they like to get stickers?
  • Children who can manage their time and feel empowered because they figured it out for themselves.

So the next time you think about setting up a routine for your children, ask yourself the following:

  • Who is the routine really for – You, or your kids?
  • Is it about developing a routine or controlling the situation?
  • Routine… did anyone ask the kids?
  • Left on their own, what routine would your children create?

For more information about how to blend training with letting go and empowering your children, learn more about the Parenting On Track™ Home Program today.

Mommy Guilt? Say What?

Mommy Guilt? Say What?A lot of articles have been written lately about “mommy guilt.” This is the feeling that many mothers have when society suggests they don’t spend enough time with their children. To that I say, HA! Listen, quite frankly, guilt is an indulgence. Here is what my grandmother told me about guilt when I was a child—stop doing whatever it is that is bringing on this feeling of guilt, and it will go away. Simple in theory, difficult to practice. However, she was right—we just don’t have time for guilt, AND it doesn’t really solve anything.

Interestingly today’s parents actually spend more time with their children than they did 40 or 50 years ago. So why do we still feel guilty? Most likely it’s because we still don’t know what is more important when it comes to time spent together -– ”quality” or ”quantity.”

There are many opinions out there on whether quality or quantity time is more important, and if we polled all the parents we knew we probably would get a mixed result, as well. So which is more important? Why can’t the answer be “BOTH”?


Time is precious. We don’t seem to have enough time to get all of the things on our to-do list done, let alone spend lots of time with our kids. So make your schedule fit your family’s schedule now and then to allow for time together. You can keep busy and still be accessible to your kids –- have them help you around the house, cook dinner, or run errands with you. Realize that being present, listening to them when they talk to you, and playing what they want to play is just as important as going to Disneyland.


While even the simple times you spend together are important, so are the one-on-one or family activities that you plan. Doing something special can stir up your child’s imagination, create lasting memories, and open up a new world of possibilities for them. Check the newspaper for local activities and “hot spots,” or just do something different. For example, you could “get lost” together and explore a new neighborhood or nature trail, have a picnic at the park with friends, or go to a local sporting event.

So stop focusing on your guilt and focus on the moment. The most important thing is to HAVE FUN with your kids. If you are having fun, then chances are they are having fun, too.

Its Your Life – What Do You Choose?

Its Your LifeA Short Guide To A Happy Life

By Anna Quindlen

While most authors address their audience as the expert on a subject, in A Short Guide to a Happy Life Anna Quindlen declares that her ordinary background taught her extraordinary lessons.

Inspired by the loss of her forty year old mother, when Quindlen was nineteen, she reveals how this pivotal moment altered her perspective on life. Becoming aware of her own mortality, Quildlen states, “As the dividing line between seeing the world in black and white, and in technicolor. The lights came on, for the darkest possible reason.”

This short, fun read should fit right in during a month when the days are short and the to-do list seems long. After reading A Short Guide to a Happy Life you may find yourself:

  • Walking outside to listen to the snow fall
  • Taking an extra moment to watch the waves roll in
  • Looking forward to long trips in the car, as an interesting way to connect with your kids.

A Short Guide to a Happy Life reads like salty chips and chocolaty sweets wrapped into one!

About the Author:

Anna Quindlen is the author of three bestselling novels; Object Lessons, One True Thing, and Black and Blue. Her New York Times column Public and Private won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and a selection of those columns was published as Thinking Out Loud. She is also the author of a collection of her Life in the 30’s columns, How Reading Changed My Life, and two children’s books, The Tree That Came to Stay and Happily Ever After. She is currently a bi weekly columnist for Newsweek and resides with her husband and children in New York City.

Quiet Car Ride. No Duct Tape Required.

Quiet Car Ride. No Duct Tape Required.My business partner, Jennifer, walked into work the other day looking like ‘Tigger’. You know, big smile, bouncing up and down. I had to ask, “Okay – What gives Tigger?”

Her face lit up as she started to recount her morning drive.“I was driving home from the dentist,” she began, “and Jessie (4) and Elizabeth (7) were in the back seat of the car giggling and laughing and cuddling, as best they could in their car seats.”

Still looking like Pooh Bear’s bouncy buddy, she continued on, “Then, all of a sudden, Elizabeth decided she was bored with the giggling and began teasing Jessie. I had about 30 seconds to grab hold of a strategy that would keep the whole situation from turning into a screaming match with those two.”

When I heard this, I knew exactly where this classic parenting story was coming from… and where it might end up!

Here is what it looks like in most families:

  • The kids start to fight
  • Mom (or Dad) starts yelling at the kids to stop fighting
  • Now the parent and the kids are fighting
  • The kids get dropped off at school feeling miserable (but only until they find their friend on the playground)
  • Mom or Dad cools down and starts to feel – well – guilty about the way the morning drive went and often confused and frustrated about all the fighting
  • Mom or Dad arrives at work upset and looking more like Eyeore then Tigger.

These same parents might spend the next 2 hours calling each other or friends, confessing how awful they feel about the fighting, admit that they don’t know WHY they snapped and promise NEVER TO DO IT AGAIN.

Of course, the real problem is that so many parents out there who experience car rides that include fighting have no idea what the root causes are and are, therefore, clueless on what to do the next time it happens… and we all know, there WILL be a next time!

OK, OK. So What Happened Already?

Jennifer continued, “I know Elizabeth is a power child and often looks for a way to feel capable. And, I remember you explaining that she could either pick a fight with her sister, or I could give her another option to focus on. So, I went back to the Crucial Cs.

The rest of the story between Jennifer and her loveable power child went something like this.

“Hey, Elizabeth… I forgot exactly where we are going. Do you remember?”

“What?” Elizabeth asked with a confused but curious look on her face.

“I know we’re heading home, but did we have to stop somewhere along the way?”

And, so it began. The shift which allowed the very capable child to forget all about teasing her sister, and shift her focus to something useful, which keeps ALL of them out of the Rabbit Hole.

The Crucial Cs Are Powerful, Proactive Tools for Parents

The shift occurred because Jennifer understands the power of one positive, pro-active strategy introduced in the Parenting On Track™ Home Program, —The Crucial C’s.

A fundamental component of this program is that you can discover why your kids do what they do and when that happens, the mystery is solved. When, once you understand why your children do what they do, you are free to create a plan which you can use in a multitude of situations – a plan that helps your children move their focus from a useless behavior to one that is useful today and on into the future.

All Elizabeth wanted was a job – something to do that would keep her from being bored and would allow her to fill her need to exercise her capabilities. Teasing was an option until her equally capable, and increasingly confident mom, provided her with something more interesting and more important to do.

And thus a happy end to Tigger’s tale.

We would like to acknowledge Drs. Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew for developing the Crucial C’s. More information on the Crucial C’s can be found in their book Raising Kids Who Can.