Recently I was at a sport with my 3 yr old and during the lesson another child decided not to participate anymore. This is not unusual with 3 yrs olds. What I overheard went something like this…. 3 yr old is refusing to do the next exercise, “But I don’t want to do it anymore!” Dad “Come on, just do this bit….” Now picture the girl defiantly sitting on the floor (we can all relate to this!), Dad keeps encouraging, however the girl is now arms crossed, standing before her cajoling father, pouting and refusing definitely not to participate, Dad says “Come on do it, I give you a lolly when we get home?” “NO” Dad says “What about a lollypop? I’ll give you a lolly pop?” “NO!!” and on it went.

So what was going on here? Dad starts off by trying to encourage her to keep going however within the space of a minute Dad went rapidly from being encouraging to then trying to motivate her with rewards of lollies. As an uninvolved bystander it is easy to see the escalating pattern of refusal by the girl and the increasing bribes her Dad offered. Obviously they were not to her liking, as she did not join in again.

So let’s step back for a moment – who was in control here, the 3 yr old or the Dad? The 3yr old 100 %! What was amazing was the speed with which this happened and the total control this girl had. It was her with her arms crossed deciding whether she should accept her Dad’s offers. Obviously Dad did not see the position, which he backed himself into.

How could this have been handled differently? Most 3 yr olds refuse to do things a bit. I am sure however that if Dad had been able to let the refusal to participate slide, it may have become no big issue or had even said a simple ‘ok’. She would have missed her turn and then chosen to join in within a few minutes. There would have been no ‘how can I make her do this?’ or bribery offered as a last resort. The girl would have not taken control from her Dad and would not have been in the position to decide should I OR shouldn’t I?

Children should participate in sport for their own enjoyment and sense of accomplishment they get themselves. Anyway, bribes are much more powerful if used in the reverse as a spontaneous reward. That is, when your child has done something you like or wish to be repeated you spontaneously reward them with the lollypop. Try not to always be rewarding with food as in the long run this teaches children to reward themselves with food. Be sure not to hint that a reward may follow a certain behavior i.e. ‘If you sit still at the doctor’s today I will give you a treat’ this is still bribery.
One last point to keep in mind, if bribery worked you would not have to keep using it and those that use it have to keep finding bigger and better rewards. Sometimes to remotely use this is ok otherwise you will get yourself into a constant cycle with the bribes getting bigger and bigger. Be careful!!

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