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When Bargaining Backfires

Peggy Bellwoar's been cutting deals with her son, Jake, since he was 2. "We'd say things like 'If you're good in church, you can have a cookie.' And it worked," says the Glastonbury, CT, mom.

The downside: Jake, now 5, won't do anything without a reward or penalty. "If he doesn't care about what we're offering, we have to think up something else," says Bellwoar.

"Rewards and punishments will only get your child to behave in the short-term," says Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting. By preschool age, kids can better weigh their options and are less likely to accept a deal. To get them to do what you ask without haggling:

Make sure your requests are age-appropriate and necessary to avoid bargaining over stuff that isn't worth it. Does it matter if your child's room is a mess? Is she even capable of sitting until the adults are finished eating?

Explain why your demand is important: "If you don't move your toys, Daddy may trip over them and get hurt." This will help your child understand that there are better reasons to clean up than "Mommy said so," or some extra Chips Ahoy.

Try to make the chore fun. She could race a timer to get the toys up or pretend she's clearing a construction site.

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