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Treats & Rewards - Yea or Nay?

Using treats and/or rewards with your kids. Some might call it bribery. Others may call it positive reinforcement. Still others might say it's simply teaching cause and effect. And, like many choices in parenting, it's a conversation that can definitely get people on either side of the issue touchy. There are a million and one ways to raise a child, aren't there? And doesn't it seem that, no matter the choice you make, someone will offer you an opposing opinion? Especially in this here Internet Land. Whether it's a choice I'm glad we've made or not, we tend to utilize a loose semblance of a reward system. It usually depends on the exact scenario, but when our son shows that he can act properly (especially in a situation that is normally a bit sticky for him), we may "reward" him with a trip to his favorite book store (whether we get a book or not isn't usually the draw; it's the train set he'd prefer to play with for hours on end). Or, if he's shown a few days of consistently good behavior (or, during a rough patch, even one full day), we may give him a package of his favorite organic fruit snacks and tell him why he earned it. Oh, yes. We do. And I admit it here, freely yet terrified of public ridicule. ;-) While I don't like to use the word "bribe", we do use an occasional treat to help our little guy regain or maintain focus. I was recently on a solo trip with him to Target, and the one thing he wanted to do was to peruse the toys. (At this time of year, we do a lot of "Ohhh, that's nice! We'll put that on our Santa list when we get home, buddy", although I'm not always above getting him a small something that we know will get lots of use.) I realized that if we hit up the toy area right away, there was zero chance that he'd let me get the rest of my shopping done. So, I talked it out with him. "If you can help me with the rest of my shopping and show how patient you can be, we'll visit the toys at the end of our trip." Cause and effect. If you *fill in the blank with desired action*, then *this positive thing will happen*. Maybe it's bribery, maybe it's not. Most of the time it works wonderfully. Other times, he gets to learn that by making a poor choice, he won't receive the thing he longs to do/see/have/eat. Follow-through is key, and it's a sad lesson of life if you don't follow directions. For the most part, he gets it. Then, there are those times that we need some extra help to get something important accomplished. Take, for example, our little guy's recent bout of pneumonia. He was hit-or-miss at sitting still while having his nebulizer treatment, and I totally understand why. It's a loud, scary, foggy thing. Not fun. But, we'd throw on one of his favorite shows and give him some "gummies" or a special snack at the end, and he even started sitting on his own to get the job done. There's no way we would have reached that point without a little extra incentive. No amount of gentle conversation or coaxing would've accomplished that end.
This method hasn't always worked, though. While we found that tying his potty-training successes to a treat system didn't help the situation, I've known plenty of parents who swear by it. He's on the older spectrum for the potty-training game and, at times, very psychological in his training. So, if he was going to be stubborn or obstinate, no amount of yummy treats were going to change his mind. (And, at times, I love him for being so strong-willed. Really!) But, if you find that the M&M route worked wonders for your little one's potty progress, I say grab that method tight and don't let go. Plus, who's to say our next child won't be easily swayed by a sweet treat? Parenting is such an ebb and flow, who can say what's right? In our case, I know that as long as we keep him in the loop and give a meaning to the reward, he doesn't tend to hit the "spoiled" phase. If we're firm and follow through when he doesn't hold up his end of the bargain, it's understood that he won't just get the treat, anyway. Many parents have issues saying "no" to their child or feeling like they're going back on their word, but the connection really helps kids feel less entitled and more proud. That said, not every situation elicits a treat response at our house. It's definitely the exception rather than the rule, and we find that words of love, encouragement, praise, pride, and support go a very long way to boosting morale and self-esteem. Plus, it helps keep the toy clutter from getting out of hand. We also find that a "treat" can be something more, like going to a new, special place and making memories together as a family, as much as it can be a tangible item. What about you? Do you reward your child with treats, or are you staunchly against the practice? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially since we're all about respecting different parenting methods around here. :-)
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