Reward, Bribery or Manipulation

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July 19, 2012 by Carin

Name one parent who has a young child that goes to bed easily?  Can’t think of anyone can you?  Kids by nature try everything possible to avoid bedtime and the actual act of falling asleep, ours included.   Just this week Dooce wrote about how her youngest, Marlo has transitioned into a toddler bed and now won’t stay in her bed, let alone her room and God forbid go to sleep.  So it goes without saying that this is a fairly familiar and widespread phenomenon.

Grace has several tactics that she uses every night to avoid the inevitable task of falling asleep.  The only time she avoids using her stall tactics is if is beyond exhausted and tells us she is tired.  But let me tell you, that doesn’t happen very often.   We have begun to ask her in advance if she wants a glass of water, wants to sit her in chair or has to go potty one last time.  This does cut down and the back and forth, but then there is the singing, playing and talking to Froggy that only stalls her departure into dreamland.

What is a parent to do?  Sleep is very important and the less sleep kids get, the more likely they are to be crabby and irritable the next day or days.  Grace is no doubt one of those kids that are a bigger handful when the ideal hours of sleep have not been met.  Plus, the longer it takes her to fall asleep the less time my husband and I have to truly relax at night.  The longer she is awake the more we are on edge waiting for the next request.

To combat all the shenanigans with bedtime we have resorted to a reward based system.  Some might consider our tactic bribery or manipulation.  So far it has worked great.   The first go at our new system went something like this; “Grace if you go to bed without singing, talking, playing or getting out of bed for 3 nights in a row  you can have a special lunch of your choice”.  She chose McDonalds, not my first choice but she was happy and she followed the rules.  She went to sleep great for those three nights.  The next reward she requested was a Curious George doll.  She earned her George doll after 5 continuous nights of going to sleep in a timely manner  and he is on his way from Amazon.

Now she doesn’t lose the reward immediately if she has to go to the bathroom or calls us to her room for something legitimate.   If she doesn’t cooperate, the reward is still immediately lost.  First she loses her morning cartoon time and the second offense results in a loss of books the following day.  Now these are things she cherishes and loves, so they have a lot of pull with her.   You are probably thinking that she has to be reminded about the reward. But the bribery reward does stay on her mind.  Every day George was at stake, she would wake up in the morning ask if she went to bed good and if she still got George.  So our tactic was shown to be working and it provided some good motivation to go to sleep in a timely fashion and stay in her room.

Now the question we now ask ourselves as we are in the middle of a new 7 day stretch of working towards a sleeping bag, is what’s next and how do we work towards a non-reward based system.  We don’t want Grace to think that going to bed or that every expectation met deserves a reward.  Have we dug ourselves into a hole?   Is she young enough that she doesn’t really get that we have essentially been bribing her to go to sleep at night?   Let’s hope not, what we don’t need a spoiled and entitled girl on our hands. But if we do, then I guess we only have ourselves to blame.  But so far she is getting a lot more sleep and we are getting more time at night of true relaxation.

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