Remember before you had kids, there were all sorts of things you would “never” do? I tried my best not to stack those expectations too high and we even treated our first child as if he were our second to avoid the whole pacifier sterilization rigmarole and went with the 5 second rule. Bribery, or swearing to avoid bribing the kids, was one of those areas which we gave up on early, although to be frank it never worked all that well. I’m not sure if it’s because my kids weren’t big fans of stickers or M&Ms, or we were just too disorganized to keep any sort of system going, but let’s just say the kids still climb into our bed at night, the sticker charts are long gone, and I just make them take a bath or shower.
I’m reviving that old stand-by, though, but this time it’s not for behavior or potty training, it’s an attempt to get my son a little happier about school, or more accurately about learning. I’m pretty sure he loves to learn new things, considering he asks more questions than a three year old and sticks to non-fiction in the Scholastic catalog. I’ve encouraged him to find the answers to his questions on the internet and offered to buy him an encyclopedia, but he hates school and the last thing he wants to do after school is “more school.” My latest research on eduction leaves me little doubt he’s got a point about school, but that’s a topic for another day. For now I’m working on getting him to “live up to his potential,” to give him a challenge which I hope is what might get him to acknowledge that perhaps there are some fun parts of third grade. I’ve had numerous talks about what we could do to make school better, to no avail, so next up is bribery.
There is a precedent. Last year instead of weekly homework there were monthly assignments. If you did them, you got a prize. After some initial trepidation I learned to love it. My older son is pretty competitive, so managed to finish every assignment even it it meant writing two stories in one morning. (My other son is opting out. The other side effect is the reduction in amount of homework, which is great.) For some reason the prizes in third grade are all tied to good behavior, which is not exactly a motivator to go above and beyond a class assignment. So I’m instigating my own reward system. If he does an extra project, preferably on a country so he’ll stop with the multiple country questions I can’t answer, he gets a Lego set. I get to decide if it’s “good enough.” I’ve also told him I won’t buy an Advent calendar until he explains to his Jewish mom what Advent is (besides a way to eat chocolate for 24 days before Christmas).
Maybe I’m fooling myself. I certainly don’t want to push him too hard. Recently, though, I saw the result of an early “bribe.” One of the students I interview for college told me an interesting tale. A few years ago he asked for an iMac, and his dad promised him one if he created an iPhone app. You might look at it as a dad pushing his own career on his child, or you might see it as dad jump starting what might be an exciting path for his son. That app made the “Top 25 Free Apps” on the iPhone and landed him a summer job at a cool start-up, not to mention the promised computer. This kid seemed genuinely happy and extraordinarily creative and bright. The proof was right there, and my son was even with me when I heard it, and immediately asked to download the app, having of course not heard a single word of the conversation.