The Fine Line Between Motivating, Incentivising and Bribery

Who else gets fed up of hearing their own voice repeat the same instructions to their kids, over and over again?

Many of the parents I talk to share this sentiment, myself included; especially at this time of year, when remaining under a cosy blanket and having me fetch and carry for him is far more favourable for my son than getting off the sofa and doing it himself. 

On a different note, he asked for a Football Card advent calendar this December. At £44, not a chance. 
So, off I went to Hobbycraft in search of a ‘decorate your own’  refillable version (big enough for football cards), and their finest ‘low-effort-high-impact’ embellishments.
And back home I came with a promise of ‘something fun’ for us to do together.

I still believe that our best arts & crafts days are behind us but, perhaps because the activity served his desire for football cards, we managed a couple of rare non-screen based hours of peaceful creating.  

And while we were in the throes of designing and sticking, an was idea brewing in my head…
…That this interchangeability of advent calendar offerings was maybe an opportunity; firstly to motivate an unmotivated 9 year old, but also
to bring a little bit of giving, and not just taking, to the proceedings.

Of course, doing the ‘right thing’; kindness, taking self-responsibility etc.; should have better drivers than ‘What’s in if for me?’, and so I admit the small aspect of bribery involved does make my idea not-quite-perfect.

But, given that me and my son currently end up arguing most days about who should do what, with him not stepping up, and me not backing down, nobody’s really winning anyway, so what’s to lose?

I think sometimes our job as parents is to accept compromise; to just focus on moving one step closer to the goal, and so this is what has now become ‘the plan‘…

Each day, there will be a ‘Good Deed’ request in the advent calendar; put your dishes in the dishwasher without being asked, make your own breakfast’ etc.
If it doesn’t done, the following day’s advent offering will be a humbug instead of football cards.

My hope is that it will provide him with enough lighthearted encouragement to actually feel the perks of self-responsibility. 
Being nagged is no fun, after all, and being able to meet your own basic needs; i.e. getting your own food; has advantages over waiting for someone to do it for you.  

We’ve tried a few approaches to independence before, but usually they go belly up after 2 or 3 days; one or both of us just lose heart.
So this idea appeals, not just because the 24 days of the plan are pre-determined, but because it makes me accountable too; I have to keep the ‘good deed’ requests – and the subsequent rewards – flowing.

And there are a few other advantages to my imperfect plan, all of which do wonders for a developing brain;   

1) It boosts brain power!

The visual, tactile and linguistic ways of actioning the plan engage multiple brain areas simultaneously; passive listening is replaced by active learning, which means more synaptic connectivity. 

2) It’s real-life learning!
Much of what children learn isn’t motivating, simply because there’s no real-life application; they’re fundamentally just being asked to remember stuff, and this is never going to make best use out of a brain. 
Children learn, meaningfully and sustainably, when they connect with the purpose; how it works, and feels, in real life. 

3) Delayed gratification
This is one of the brain’s ‘executive functions‘; taking action now for a longer-term reward. 
Working towards and waiting for the desired outcome is an essential skill in life, but it’s also sorely lacking in our generation of kids, whose worlds are full of instant satisfaction. 
Yes, the advent wait is just one day, but it’s still good practice.

4) The five ‘R’s’
Rehearse – role play – repeat;
 these are three golden threads which reinforce neural pathways, helping the thought, action or behaviour become more automatic, and less forced.
‘Ritual
‘ is the fifth R which brings together the other four, all at once.  

Progress;
On 1st Dec, my son changed into his PJ’s, and then neatly folded his school uniform (which is usually stepped out of and left on the floor).  The day’s good deed was not even ‘fold your clothes‘… Winning.

The next day’s deed was remained not done. Perhaps the sixth R is ‘realistic’. Time will tell… 

Get insights for the ups and downs for parenting delivered straight to your inbox (and my FREE pdf) by joining my mailing list below.