Why I broke the rules and bribed my kid with a candy bar

Every parent of my generation knows the rules.

One of them is that you should never bribe your child, especially with processed sugar. Another is that you should never, ever put pressure on your child to succeed. These are two cardinal parenting rules in my white, American, college educated culture. We don’t want to be those intense, overbearing parents who demand that their children Achieve! Nor do we want to be the slacker parents who abandon all nutritional sense and give in to our children’s whining for sugar.

I brazenly broke both of these rules this past weekend. And did so in good conscience. With nonchalance, even. I told my daughter that if she scored a goal in her soccer game that I would let her have the full-size candy bar that she had received for Halloween and had been begging to eat.

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What on earth was I thinking? How could I stoop so low?

I was thinking that this reward was the perfect bit of added motivation that my daughter needed to push past her fears.  Let me explain the background. My daughter has been playing soccer for almost three years (six full seasons now) and has never scored a goal.

She has assisted in the scoring of many, many goals, perfectly passing the ball to her teammates at just the right moment. My daughter is a skilled and smart team-player, and I could not be prouder of her for this. She does great work every time she plays forward. She rarely takes a shot herself, though. Something about that intimidates her. She is far more comfortable in the support role.

In general, I am okay with this. Every Karl Malone needs a John Stockton. My husband has made a career out of doing the behind-the-scenes work that enables others to shine. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, there is much that is beautiful (and Biblical) about it. I love that my daughter is such a great team-player.

At the same time, I cannot let her shrink from taking shots that are hers to take. On the soccer field or anywhere. John Stockton did not play the support role out of timidity. My daughter must be nudged to overcome her fears and, when appropriate, take the shot.

After a week of her requests to eat it, I realized that her large Hershey bar was just the thing to do that nudging. We all need a little extra motivation sometimes, don’t we? So, I told her that if she scored a goal, she could eat the entire candy bar as soon as she got home.

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When she is able to forget herself, we see flashes of assertiveness on the field.

I bet you can guess what happened. She scored the first goal of the game and did so within the first three minutes. Boom.

And then I realized that I needed to provide her with further motivation to keep trying to score. I knew she would be tempted to lie back and rest on her laurels. So during the break between quarters, I told her that if she scored another goal, she could eat her other full-size candy bar the next day. (I do have some principles, after all. I wasn’t going to let her eat two large candy bars in a single day.)

The parenting “rules” are generally good but they must be kept in their place. We cannot follow other people’s advice so thoroughly that we fail to notice the particularities of our own children and what they need to grow. Every child is different. Parenting takes flexibility and creativity, not robotic adherence to society’s expectations.

© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2015.

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